By Carrie Cariello
Mom. Can we take my autism away?
Today, I did one thousand things wrong.
I broke a glass at exactly 6:01 this morning, and I forgot to switch the laundry.
I had a terrible workout.
I missed a meeting at the school and I barely made it home in time for the bus.
I ran into an old neighbor in the grocery store and I could barely contain my annoyance when she kept blathering on and on about all the trophies her son won for swimming this summer.
The afternoon wasn’t much better. I got frustrated with you when you kept asking if you could download a new song. Then I found you in the basement, stringing together all the Christmas lights even though it is barely the middle of September.
Daddy came home right before dinner and he kissed me at the stove and I complained he was late and his mouth turned sour.
At bedtime, I snapped at you because you wandered downstairs eleventy million times.
When at last the house was quiet, I sat at my desk and I wondered what this is all for—the snapping and the wandering and the autism?
What is it all for?
There is a reason.
Would I take your autism away?
This is what we autism parents ask ourselves the world over—we wonder if we would we turn back time or change genetics or hand out a magic pill to erase the spectrum disorder.
In the still of the night, we turn it around and around in our bleary minds.
When the sun rises, we are chipper again. We accept our responsibility—we don’t question the way it destroys our marriages and our self-esteem and our friendships.
At the same time there, is a lump in our throats and we swallow it. We force ourselves to forget about the idea that maybe, just a small maybe, we would change it.
See, we can’t say it out loud because it means we don’t love our special children enough and we don’t accept them for who they are and we are bad, bad people.
I love you.
I accept you.
This afternoon I went to the outlets to look for some running shoes. I saw a woman pushing a stroller, so I looked inside—I always look in strollers, because I love babies, especially when they aren’t mine—and in this stroller was a little girl with bright blonde hair. She was probably three years old. Her sneakers were pink.
Her face was arranged differently than ours. I am not going to go into details, but let’s just say she was hauntingly beautiful with a nose out of place in the way that leaves you aching deep in the middle of your rib cage.
Sometimes I hear people say there is nothing they would change about autism.
Nothing? I want to ask.
Not the brutal honesty, or the endless perseverations, or the crushing anxiety?
Not the inner turmoil I see witness inside your very soul–the perpetual longing to belong, balanced against your own pressing need for solitude?
Would I take it away?
Can I take it away?
Perhaps you and autism are inexplicably bound together. If I were to remove the obsessiveness, the memory, the stimming, the honesty, nothing would be left but a shell of a boy—empty, and hollow.
To change one thing would mean changing it all, I guess.
But aren’t we already working to change you—little by little—every single day?
Social stories, special schools, medication, education plans, books, feeding therapy.
When I sit at my desk after an especially long day and I consider the meaning of it all, I always come back to one thought.
We need you.
We need you, and we don’t even know it.
We need you to remind us that different is still equal.
We need you, and others like you, to alter the face of the traditional classroom, and the workforce, and politics, and sports.
We need you to help us grow into the people we are already supposed to be.
Sometimes I think of hope as a bag of rocks strapped to my back. It is heavy and I lug it around until I am sweating and shaking.
I hope no one hurts you.
I hope you will be okay when I die.
I hop you know how much I love you.
See, compared to love, the hope is easy.
If hope is a bag of rocks, then I think love is the wave of an ocean.
Again and again, the wave returns to kiss the shore, no matter how often it is turned away.
Why does it do this?
Autism brings out the worst in me—the shouting, frustrated, uncertain worst.
You also bring out the best.
Would I take your autism away?
Maybe I would, if not for me, but for you.
I can’t though, that’s the thing.
I can’t take it away.
I know, it’s not fair.
If hope is a bag of rocks and love is a wave upon the sand, then fair is a four-leaf clover. Other people talk about it, but you hardly ever see it for yourself.
Jack-a-boo. I have made a million mistakes in my life.
But you, my son, are not one of them.
Because of you, I am brave.
Because of you, I am different.
Because of you, I see those who may go unseen.
Today, I did one thing right.
Hey, pretty girl. I love your pink sneakers.
She had the widest smile, and her eyes were blue like the sea.