A-Word Awareness


I used to toss his name out like a boomerang with a silent prayer that it would come back to me. Sometimes it did. A lot of the time it didn’t.

I sat on our swing pretending to read while he toddled in the flowerbed. We never did plant anything there. I just wanted eye contact. Or a smile. I kept a tally in the corner of page 151. He heard me twice. Four times his name sailed by him, a baseball he didn’t know to catch. My stomach sank.

We had his hearing checked more than once. I started using words like “sensory integration” and “selective mutism” because they made me feel more comfortable. I crumpled the page of printed research my mother-in-law sent home. It’s in a landfill somewhere now. I snapped at my sister for using the a-word. She’s since forgiven me.

We took a vacation to Myrtle Beach when he was three, and we ate out a lot. I had no explanation for the baffled waitress when he began compulsively peeling the entire basket of restaurant crayons. His coloring page stayed blank. It was the first time I wished for the label “autism”—a term that might help the world forgive my quirky boy.

We have the label now but it doesn’t usually make much difference. That’s okay, though. The glances don’t bother me as much anymore.

My son is bent toward patterns and there is something kind of beautiful about that. He sees the parts of people I’m trained to overlook and he pockets them like treasures. He drinks in the world with a fierceness that compels him to spin. He frames life with a rigid order and yes, sometimes that’s hard, but it breeds a certain kind of honesty, too.

Autism isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to our family. I wish somebody had written that on a blue puzzle piece when I was quietly worrying over page 151. I wish I’d known that the fear tied up in the a-word isn’t a good representation of what autism really is.

He hears his name now more than he used to, but when he doesn’t I get to graze his still baby soft cheek with my finger. I’m thankful for that.