With a sense of wonder, abiding love, and concern, a Manhattan mother of a child who has autism envisions the significant other he will one day—hopefully—have.
If you’re reading this, I am so very pleased to meet you: It means that the future has been kind enough to let you and my son find each other.
I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman, or if you have autism or not; nor do I care. I do know that you’re gentle and caring and compassionate because that is what Brooks responds to. It’s what he’s always responded to since he was a baby, and my husband and I hope he never outgrows it.
But there are other characteristics that we are eager for him to outgrow, and you should know that regardless of how successful we are in our endeavors, we have been diligently working on them.
I thought of you the other night when we were having dinner and Brooks started eating rice with his hands. We can’t ignore that these kinds of habits will only magnify the disadvantages he’ll face in the social quagmire of high school, and even once he somehow makes it through all that, how will anyone—especially someone as nice as you—ever sit down to a meal with him? It’s not like we’ve never taught him that he can’t use his hands to eat rice, but it’s complicated for him: He wants to use his hands because of his fine motor challenges, and he has trouble remembering the rules; he can use his hands to eat fried chicken—then why not rice? So now he has to remember the inconsistent rules and manipulate the fork (plus he happens to have the appetite of a Sumo wrestler).
I wish I could promise you that his improvements over the years will be significant, but the reality is that they may be slight. I’m guessing you already know that he cannot be asked to make a bed unless you want it to look like a Salvador Dalí painting; that he simply doesn’t process where the blanket ends and the pillow begins. And that his other housecare skills like laundry and cooking and cleaning will never be second nature for him. Although he’ll continue to master certain aspects, I’m afraid that others may remain beyond his capabilities.
And that’s not the half of it. I wish I could sugarcoat his intellectual delays, but I have to be honest with you: His brain works differently. It is not defective, as some misguided parties claim, but rather unique in its processes. He experiences the world differently and he can’t easily learn what we deem valuable–only what he does—like memorizing the roster of almost every team in the NBA. And the NFL. And the MLB. At nine years old.
I’m guessing that you know all this, and that you don’t care; that you understand what really matters whether he’s 9 or 29 is that he’s doing the best he can, and no matter how much we want to spare him the pain of feeling different, there comes a point where we need to graciously accept his limitations.
The surprising truth about those limitations is that when you spend time with him, they fade away into the background. No one knows this better than you and I. He takes our breath away: his magnetic good looks, easy smile, and winning charm; the kind and gentle way he asks how our day went; his quirky sense of humor and infectious laugh; his moves on the dance floor; and finally, his unparalleled enthusiasm that hovers somewhere between driving us crazy and making us insanely happy.
Brooks is supposed to find someone to share his life with, but he was also supposed to thrive in an integrated school environment, and he was also supposed to lose his diagnosis. In the shadow of these unrealized optimistic expectations and in the interest of keeping a firm grasp on reality, I am forced to wonder whether you exist.
But then I look at Brooks—how absolutely perfect he is exactly as he is—and I realize how unfair it would be for me to play it safe and saddle him with low expectations. And when he looks back at me—in those purest of moments—my fears wash away and all I can see is the magic of his future. And your part in it.
It is my fiercest hope that someday I get to welcome you to the family.
About the Author
Marni Goltsman is a Manhattan writer and mom of a son who was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. She founded the shopping site shopforcharitynow.com, which automatically donates to charity, and blogs about how her son's autism allows her family "to experience the world differently and...grow in unexpected ways" at capturingautism.com. Read more of Marni Goltsman's personal essays at nymetroparents.com/marni-goltsman.