Sunday, February 13, 2011

Autistic Son, Artistic Daughter

Spring 2003: Enjoying the time with my oldest girl.

I had a strange and wonderful weekend. It began on Friday afternoon, when I learned from my wife that the doctors at Children's Hospital in Boston had diagnosed our son as autistic.

I'm still reeling from this pronouncement because I hadn't expected it. My wife and I knew our son had some language delays and rigid behaviors. We understood that he was certainly on that autism spectrum. But we never thought he would be diagnosed as actual autistic. His intellectual, social, and behavioral patterns have always seemed just slightly away from where we thought they should be. And, thanks to Early Intervention, he has made great progress in the past year. So, we were surprised.

My son is now three years old. His birthday is today. I got to spend lots of one-on-one time with him yesterday, and I watched him play at his auntie's house this evening. He's a very sweet kid. He's funny and happy and adventurous. I worry about not parenting him right, about not pushing when I should or pushing too much when I should back off. But I believe in him, and I think he'll be able to continue his growth this year. And while I would never wish for anyone to be autistic, I am glad that my son is who he is. Autistic or not, it doesn't change how I feel about him. I know we all have a long and difficult road in front of us. I completely embrace the opportunity to travel it with my son, my wife, and our family.

My oldest girl turned eight on Saturday, that is, yesterday. She's a lot like my son: intense, energetic, occasionally acting inappropriately in social settings. She's become a big reader. She reads in bed every night. My wife and I worry that she perhaps has some autism spectrum disorder that's been overlooked. My son's condition is a bit more obvious and stereotypical, but perhaps in girls the signs present differently because of different social pressures and biological tendencies.

Although I won't be surprised if my daughter is confirmed to be along the autism spectrum more than most average people, I suspect that the truth is my daughter already wants more out of her life than we can give her at home. She wants attention, she wants to sing and dance, she wants to direct and lead. She has plans and schemes, and her family can't really help her realize them. She is essentially an artist struggling to find her medium and make her style. At some point in her journey, she'll have to leave her family behind.

I have an autistic son and an artistic daughter. It's a wonder, all right. It's a wonder. Hence, the title of this post.

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