So yes, Mister Man’s on the autism spectrum. I’ve had discussions – long debates – with friends about whether our children have autism or whether they are autistic. And the nomenclature really does make a difference. If he is autistic, how much does that define him? Autism is a part of him, sure, but he’s so much more than that. I’ve written before, too, how Mister Man is very high functioning, which causes issues in and of itself because without an obvious disability that people can see, his behavior sometimes doesn’t make sense.
He is capable of so much, and I see it. He loves to cook and help me do it. I can trust him to peel and cut up potatoes with a modicum of supervision. He relates so well with his sister, and Little Miss adores playing with him. They’re old enough now that I frequently send them outside to play, knowing they’re both responsible enough to stay safe and follow our rules. Mister Man can get his math homework done in five minutes when he sits down to work on it.
I know he can do all these things.
But some days, he doesn’t. He’ll be at gymnastics, laying on the ground with his feet behind his head, completely ignoring the instructor. Or he’ll sit down to do homework and instead chew on his pencil, then open a book to read it. Or he’ll throw his pajamas at Little Miss as she’s heading back down the hallway to put her own pajamas in the dirty hamper, poking and prodding and annoying her, nonstop.
And I call him on it, each and every time. I know he knows better and can do better. I know he intends to do better but… forgot. And he needs that reminder. And every single time my mom sees me correcting him, reminding him to put his arms down when we’re in a restaurant instead of hanging them over his head and almost into the booth behind us, she comes back to me with, “But he’s Autistic.”
As if the phrase and the fact that he’s Autistic suddenly excuses all the things he does that are inappropriate or “odd thoughts” or that we should just pat him on the head and let him continue on his merry, misguided way. As if it’s an excuse that means we shouldn’t strive for him to do better or more. I find that so condescending to him because I see what he’s capable of and what he does on his own on a regular basis.
To me, that goes to the heart of the matter. Is he autistic, or does he have autism? If he is autistic, that becomes him, and that is his status. It focuses our expectations around the autism and what he can’t do, all his limitations. It lowers the bar and gives him a pass because he’s Autistic. Instead, I look at him, and I see that he has autism and that it’s a part of him and causes him to be different.
I don’t put him in situations where he’s destined to fail or even struggle. We did private swim lessons because being in the group when he was younger and immature was too tempting to play and not do what he was supposed to do while waiting for the other five children in his class to go across the pool with the instructor – and how many completely neurotypical kids have the same issue? We tried t-ball and realized that team sports like that just aren’t his forte. Instead, we found ways he can and does shine. He adores tae kwon do, and he’s improving in his tramp and tumbling class – a class that is designed for kids who want to move and do gymnastics things but are in no way on a track to ever do any sort of competitive gymnastics. We have playdates at our house more often than we do at others’ houses because it’s easier for me to monitor what’s going on and intervene to pull Mister Man back if necessary. We carefully placed him in a Cub Scout pack that has quieter boys where the leader keeps things moving rather than the rowdy group that is already bordering on out of control.
As he grows up, he’ll have to become more and more independent and responsible. The only way this is going to happen is if he starts to learn how when he’s young and the consequences are small. So yes, I’ll tell him he needs to put the book away, and if he doesn’t listen, I’ll confiscate it. I’ll remind him to keep his voice at an indoor level when we’re at a restaurant because the entire building doesn’t need to hear his side of the conversation. I’ll have him apologize to his gymnastics instructor when he’s not participating and remind him again before the next class of exactly what my expectations are – not that he’s suddenly going to learn how to do a perfect cartwheel but that he keeps his hands to himself and focuses on his instructor.
Because I know he can. I know he’s capable of all that and more. He has autism; he isn’t just autistic. He’s so much more, and the excuse of “but he’s Autistic” just isn’t going to fly the majority of the time. I have faith.