“What school does he go to?” Twice in the last two weeks complete strangers have asked this question – referring to Michael; once at an ice cream parlor, once in the dentist’s waiting room. It almost feels like a secret password/phrase. As in “I understand he’s different, and I wonder if you’ll open up”. And I don’t mean they were being intrusive- in fact both ladies who asked me that question were nothing but kind. The first woman had a child herself with autism, and the 2nd woman was a former ESE specialist. There’s a feeling I can’t explain when interacting with people who are directly enmeshed in this world in which I live. It’s like meeting someone who fluently speaks a language that most people don’t comprehend. Over the years, I’ve attended so many events that are attended by these same amazing families – sports & recreation events, school meetings, field trips, social gatherings. When I’m surrounded by these wonderful people, there’s a sense of calm – a sense of tranquility. We all know that we’re part of the same world; that we share something that others cannot truly understand. We just connect. And there’s something so comforting in that knowledge. I’ve attended open house for Michael since he was in kindergarten, and sitting in the classroom, surrounded by the parents of Michael’s classmates, there’s a feeling I can’t quite explain. It’s like we’re all members of this secret society, and the outside world has disappeared for half an hour. Then when that meeting convenes, we’re sent back out to do our battles. Ironically, it’s probably the way our kids feel sometimes outside of their little protected world in the classroom.
Every summer, my sisters and nephews come to visit for about a week. My boys both adore their cousins. And so many times when I watch my nephews and their moms I wonder “What is it like to just have children without any special needs at all?”. I cannot even fathom what that is like. I’m not going to lie – many times I envy families like that. What would it be like if I could leave my 13 and 11 year old boys home alone for an hour in the morning so I could go take a Zumba class or get a haircut? What’s it like to be able to go to happy hour after work without worrying if Michael will start crying in aftercare because I arrived past 4:15? So many things that people simply take for granted, and yet for me and so many others are impossibilities.
If it was possible, would I take Michael’s autism away so I could have a different kind of life? I really don’t know if I would. The quick answer is “yes” – and people who aren’t in my situation might give that same response. Would a parent of a typical child change something about him or her to have a “better” life? Autism is a part of who Michael is. He’s sweet and funny and affectionate and doesn’t have an unkind bone in his body. (How many 13 year old boys can you say THAT about????)
Being part of this little world has changed something inside of me for the better. And there are people and friends I have met because of this little world that I can’t imagine living without.