Last week, we had visitors at our church’s Wednesday night bible study. We offer a children’s ministry, so naturally the visiting kids went to class with our kids. As it has become our custom, we asked our kids about their class, what they learned, how the kids participated. Our most candid child, DJ, proceeds to tell us that his brother, Nicolas, was “acting weird”. DJ went on to say that he requested, that Nicolas cut it out because the visitors were “looking at him funny”.
You see, Nicolas, is autistic. Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and Non-verbal communication, and by restricted or repetitive behavior. (Wikipedia) We thought Nicolas just had a severe speech delay, but we later discovered through observation and testing that he is actually autistic. The doctors did what they were supposed to do and prepared us for the worst. We were told he may never speak, and if he did his speech may never be emotionally expressive. So being affectionate may never be a possibility. We were told that he may learn dramatically different from others and subsequently be in special education his entire scholastic career. We were told that he may never be able to function independently and may require personal care even as an adult.
Despite all the bad news of his scary future, Nicolas has defied every odd and is overcoming every obstacle. He does communicate verbally and is very emotionally expressive. He is also very artistically talented with drawing, singing and playing musical instruments. He is mostly mainstreamed academically, working hard and making good grades as a result of having good teachers and involved parents. In fact, many people have told us that they couldn’t really tell something is “wrong” with him, unless we mention it.
So my son’s life teaches me a valuable lesson. There is really no such thing as “normal”. Nicolas is fully self aware, and is quite content with himself. He likes what he likes, and expresses himself how he wants to express himself without giving any thought about what others think about him. As much as I would like to think that we, as his family, aren’t included in the “others” category we really are.
DJ wasn’t being ugly with his assessment of the situation. He loves his brother. But, at the same time, he (to a certain extent) is bound to what other people think of him. Nicolas’s little quirks didn’t bother him before. It wasn’t until there was someone else there to judge that he became concerned about Nicolas “acting weird”. To be completely honest, we have all done the same thing. His mother, brother, sister and I have all felt the need to explain why Nicolas isn’t like everyone else; bound to what people think of him, because he is a reflection of ourselves.
But once I really thought about it, Nicolas is free. Nicolas has been given a gift of unbridled individuality. He isn’t enslaved to public opinion, or bound to social hierarchy. Nicolas is free. If you like him, great. If you don’t, so what? Nicolas is free. He doesn’t worry about fitting in or being included. Nicolas is free. If you invite him to the party, awesome. If you don’t, no big deal. Nicolas is free.
And as I write these words, with tears in my eyes, I realize how much I envy him. If only we could learn that simple truth: different isn’t bad, it’s just different. If only we had the courage to live without the pressures of “being normal”, we could be free too. If only we could learn that “being normal” is overrated and boring, we could be free too. If only we could only embrace our differences, and celebrate others’, we could be free too.
Most dads get to be their sons’ hero. But it is my son who is a hero to me. Because, when I grow up, I want to be like him. Free.
© 2014 Team Murph Publishing / DJoaquin Publishing, All Rights Reserved.
This blog was written in conjunction with World Autism Day. Please share, to help spread awareness and raise sensitivity for the individuals and families that live with autism everyday.