Parenting My Non-Verbal Son
“I’m supposed to say that being the father to a seven-year-old non-verbal son with autism is very hard. I could list all the things that make raising him more difficult than it would be raising another child. Maybe I can even call myself a ‘superhero’ or a ‘warrior’ merely for taking care of him.
That’s the expectation that most have, right? I’m so much stronger than everyone else because I’ve agreed to take on such a huge burden.
In reality, my son Lucas is one of my favorite people. The day I became his father was truly one of the greatest moments of my life.
I know that some people outside our home might think that statement is an exaggeration for the sake of good feelings. After all, they see my son’s apparently uninterested demeanor, echoing claps, or occasional shouts as jarring and different.
His perceived shortcomings are front and center for all to see. For many, that’s all they see.
What I see is a little boy who is never malicious or cruel. He doesn’t look down on anyone or mock those who are different. He never has ulterior motives.
When he comes over to give me a hug, it’s never to butter me up for a present he’s been eyeing. It’s simply because he wants to hug me.
It’s the purest love I’ve ever known because there’s no pretense to it. There’s nothing selfish in his motivations so our bond has nothing to do with being a ‘cool dad’ or getting him a new toy. Those things mean nothing to him.
What does mean something to him? Me. Just me.
That’s what makes him love me in a way that many people never get to experience. I didn’t until I had him. It’s a feeling unlike any other.
Watching his face light up when I enter a room fills my heart with a sense of pride words can’t adequately express. In fact, words can’t express a lot about our relationship. They don’t have to, I learned that from Lucas too.
You can say so much without saying anything. The bond we share is living proof of that.
Accepting Life As An Autism Parent
The reason I know that others may see our situation as sad is that I was once just like them. I too was a person living in a house without a non-verbal person.
Every autism parent wasn’t an autism parent at one time. I know what other people think because, before I had the life experience with my son that I have now, I was once other people.
Learning that your little boy might never speak can seem like a catastrophic piece of news. It definitely felt that way for us. I immediately began to imagine all the things that we couldn’t have.
At such a young age, Lucas had yet to develop his personality, so I wasn’t able to tell myself, ‘Oh, but he does this or he does that.’ He wasn’t really doing much of anything yet. He was practically a baby.
All I had was a list of actions that he wouldn’t be doing any time soon, not what he potentially would do. Those days were hard.
Special Needs Parent Reality
As the years went by, though, he grew and developed into the boy he is today. He’s the kid I hide on the couch with to sing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ while everyone else is running wild around us. He’s the kid who laughs uncontrollably when I count down from three and tickle him like a madman.
He’s the kid who will walk up to me when I’m sitting in a chair and pat me on the head for no reason other than to be nice. He’s the kid who, well…he’s just my kid. He’s perfect.
I don’t base my relationship with my son on whether we can speak to each other. That would be like basing my relationship with my daughter Olivia on whether or not she watches Japanese wrestling with me. She doesn’t, yet, I still love her just as much.
It’s not for the things she does or doesn’t do. It’s because of who she is as a person. It’s because she’s my kid and I love her.
The same goes for him. It should be the same for all parents – whether their children are on the spectrum or not.
Most mornings when I go into his room to wake him up, I’m greeted by a bevy of claps and cheers. Lucas will literally hop around me with excitement to start my day on the highest of notes. I’ll still be all smiles as we head to a restaurant for breakfast where he quietly plays on his iPad at the table.
A few feet away, there will be a completely verbal kid pouring water on his mother’s pocketbook. Maybe there will be another cursing at the waiter or spitting sunflower seeds on the floor.
Suddenly, my son will let out a yelp and clap in his excitement. Those other families will turn to look our way with a sympathetic eye. I can’t help but laugh at their ironic gawking.
The old saying is, ‘you don’t know how good you have it.’ Well, I do know how good I have it. They don’t.
To put it bluntly, it’s like sipping on the world’s greatest champagne while people chugging warm Kool-Aid pity you for it.
So call me a Warrior. Behold my superpowers. Watch from afar and lament about how ‘strong’ I must be to have a son like him.
I’ll take it, but deep down know that you’re actually feeling sympathy for the luckiest dad in the world.”
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