Having a baby is the most wonderful, humbling, exhausting experience I have ever known. I thought it would be a challenge, but that I would also learn and gain so much.
Then one day my baby was diagnosed with severe autism. Everything I had ever known about parenting suddenly changed.
I went from being the teacher to becoming the student; despite my son having no ability to speak, he has taught me more than any speaker, any book or any course ever could.
Here are four things my severely autistic son has taught me about life:
1. If you enjoy something, repeat it
All too often in life we are told to “move on” or “grow up” or “you are too young for that!” My son has no concept of age appropriateness nor is he affected in any way by peer pressure. He enjoys a ride on a train to the same station to see the same elevators over and over again. He watches the same videos on YouTube over and over. He presses the same button on the same toy repeatedly and still laughs.
Isaac has taught me that if something fills your heart with joy, never be ashamed to relive that. Life is to be enjoyed over and over and over again. I need to go back to finding joy, just like him, in the simplicity of life repeated over and over again.
2. Stop worrying about other people
Isaac has no awareness of others. He is not afraid to get on a slide, even if a group of older children are in his way. He is not afraid to flap, spin, laugh and clap, even if others don’t join him. Bullying goes right over his head. Comments from others don’t affect him. He could not care what he is wearing, where others are going or whether he is included or not. He does not aspire to be politically correct nor does he want to lead the crowd.
He is blissfully content being who he is exactly and how he wants to be.
I want to be more like that. Life is not about doing what everyone else is or pleasing others. He is different and happy to be so, and there is a lesson there for all of us.
3. There are other ways to communicate without using words
I talk far too much. Many of us do. Isaac cannot talk at all ,so he relies on other, much more basic ways to communicate. He sits beside me if he wants a hug, screams if he is unhappy or scared, takes my hand to lead me, and finds photographs of things he wants.
To most people, his communication is too basic, too rudimentary to learn anything from. They are wrong. Speech is not a “higher” level of communication, but rather a way to communicate that is actually too easily misunderstood. We can say we are happy, yet our body language says otherwise. We can say we love when we actually don’t.
My son simply shows me in beautiful and simple ways. They say actions speak louder than words — perhaps we all rely way too much on spoken and written language when a simple hug or smile would convey much more.
4. Don’t worry about the future, just enjoy today
Isaac has no concept of “future.” He lives in the here and now and, at 8, is just about coping with the basic idea of “first and then.” He has no worry about politics, or religion or current affairs. He has no concerto of wars, shootings or terrorism. He lives in the moment. He eats food and enjoys every item with no consideration for cost or sell-by dates. He is as content to eat an out-of-shape vegetable from a low-cost supermarket as he is to eat out in an expensive restaurant. As long as he gets to eat, he does not care.
He never stresses about money or where it will come from, and neither does he desire anything of any real value. He will play with a coat hanger, flapping it for hours, without any idea that most people would view it as trash. While we may not be quite as able to “live for the moment” as he is, we certainly could learn from his carefree lifestyle and worry much more about today than the future.
“First today, then tomorrow” could be a motto for us all.
Isaac will most likely never read, or write or live on his own. Does he care? Not an ounce. He has zero idea about toilet training and he is not in any way worried what anyone thinks about that. He wakes up every morning happy. He laughs at the same YouTube clip that he laughed at yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that too.
Life is simple. Life is fun. Life is about today. He dances to his own beat and I am proud of him. He brings me delight every day. He has so much to teach us. He may be severely autistic and non-verbal, but the world is a better place for having him in it.
People tell me he needs to be more like us. I disagree. We need to be much more like him.
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