Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not an Affliction

Recently, I went to a cousin's graduation dinner. I was the last to arrive, and was making the rounds hugging and saying hello to everyone at the table. When I got around to my very-distant cousin "Joseph," he stood formally, clasped both my hands in his, and greeted me by saying, terribly earnestly, "I am so sorry for your burden."

"Burden?" I asked. That I've come alone and left my husband home with our 3 1/2 year old son? That we're having no luck selling our apartment? That I had to take two trains to get to the restaurant?

"To have a child that's so afflicted... it must be awful for you."

I cut him off. "What are you talking about? My kid is awesome!" I smiled and moved on to the next relative at the table.

My son, Ryan, has PDD-NOS - Pervasive Developmental Disorder, an autism spectrum disorder. His brain is organized differently than the average person's, and through a special school and various therapeutic interventions, he is developing the tools that will help him function in a neurotypical world.

Joseph has never met my son. Based on just the word autism, he decided my son must be mute, violent, embarrassing, constantly rocking on the floor and flapping his arms, completely aloof, unreachable, unlovable, alien.

That's not Ryan.

Ryan is the most joyous little boy I know. His laugh makes me melt every time. He loves to play tag and hide and seek. He loves being tickled and turned upside down. He loves letters and numbers, and has been able to recite the alphabet since before he was two. He involves me in his world - often he will grab my hand and say "Come on, Mommy, I show it!" He keeps tabs on the people he cares about - "Where's Daddy now?" or "Mommy, you come back!" He knows the house rules, even if he doesn't always follow them. He can play some computer games by himself, but he prefers to play them with me.

He's a kid. An amazing, lovable, wonderful kid.

And he's on the spectrum.

And as great as some of his challenges are, I wouldn't want him any other way.

Screw you, Joseph.

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