Monday, August 22, 2011

The Tao of Roo

What does it mean to have autism?

What does it mean to have a child with autism?

By now, you might expect me to have some insights. Not only have I been thinking about these questions as they pertain to those of us here at Casa del Rooster for the past five years, but I have cultivated a community of people with autism and their families, and many have been grateful enough to share their own insights with me.

And still, I have no great understanding about the meaning of autism.

Then again, I have no great insight into what it means to be one particular race, or religion, or profession. I only know what it means to wake, and work, and walk, through this life that is mine, and to see each event, each day, each person, as I see it, through the filters of my own feelings and the lens of my life experiences.

There is no one autism. There IS only one Rooster. He is my little boy, seven years old, impossibly cute, and I love him. I do not know why he has autism, but every maternal instinct I have tells me he was born roostery, that he has always been who he is, that autism has been part of his package since day one. I can't define his autism for you, and it makes me uncomfortable to categorize people by their "functioning" level, like they are competing appliances. But I can tell you this: people who do have a singular image in their mind of what autism is often find my boy surprising. They often don't know what to make of him or of many of his friends or of my friends who are "on the spectrum."

And to be honest, while I find the word spectrum somewhat satisfying in its representation of infinite variety, what exactly is up with the singularity behind "the"? I mean, I find myself saying, "Rooster is on the spectrum" and thinking: Well, who isn't? When I really think about it, it stops making sense. I buy into the notion that there is a continuum to human sexuality, so I believe all people are somewhere on that continuum because there are no asexual people. When I say we all have special needs and fit into a spectrum of personalities and behaviors, that's not me trying to make my boy sound more typical, that's me confessing I have no idea what typical is, and owning that I'm certainly not it, even though I don't have autism.

Very soon, a new school year will begin. With it will come eighty-six gajillion opportunities to discuss with teachers, parents, kids, and strangers that my son has autism. They will look to me to help them make sense of it. Sadly, I imagine that I will be of very little use in that department. But I will tell about my boy. I will tell them he is seven, we call him the Rooster, and he's good and some things, great at some things, and challenged by some other things. When he struggles, we like to help him find ways to use his strengths as leverage for success. When he feels upset or sensitive, we model coping mechanisms and make sure he knows he is safe and loved. When he makes poor choices, we try to help him learn for the next time. When he does well, we celebrate a lot. Maybe telling people all that doesn't help them understand autism on any deeper level. But my son is not autism.

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