Seven Reasons I Wish I Could Be More Like My Son With Autism

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I just made a hotel reservation in Chicago. It’s one of my favorite places. Evan isn’t crazy about the Windy City – or any city – because there are too many sirens. During the call I informed the reservation specialist that my son has autism and requested a room on a higher floor to help minimize street noise. She said she was going to note that the request was based on a “child’s medical condition.”

She thought she was doing me a favor by not disclosing Evan’s diagnosis. I asked her to please use the word autism so that the hotel staff would understand the nature of the request. A “medical condition” sounded vague and didn’t make sense in the context of this request. While some people are private about their child’s diagnosis, I am all about education and raising awareness so that people are more understanding of those who are different. I am not ashamed of Evan’s autism. Sometimes, ok, many times, it frustrates me. But, I also am envious of so many aspects of his personality, most of which I think are shaped by his autism.

Here is my list of seven reasons I wish I could be more like Evan. I know there are more (like I wish I didn’t care if the house was messy), but these immediately come to mind.

1. He is comfortable in his own skin and nothing embarrasses him. Evan doesn’t even understand the concept of embarrassment. When we tried to explain it to him, he asked if it hurts when your face turns red. I know embarrassment is a useful emotion. We’re still trying to teach him not to drop his pants to his ankles at a urinal. But I’d often be better off without all that worry that comes with embarrassment. It must be so freeing not to care whether others are judging you.

Evan is the kind of person who will dance like nobody’s watching. Plus, he wants everyone watching to join him (which is why he can be the life of the party; see number 3).

2. He can spell. I’d be lost without spellcheck. Evan is my spellcheck. A kid who started reading later than his peers, Evan has an incredible memory that makes spelling a cinch for him. He could easily be the school’s secret weapon in a spelling bee.

Fortunately, I have Evan and a computer with spell-check. Unfortunately, the computer doesn’t catch every mistake and, as a freelance writer and blogger, there is nothing more embarrassing than a spelling or grammar mistake (except missing a deadline).

Dancing at the park.

Dancing at the park.

3. Evan is the life of the party kind of guy. He knows how to engage people, and he attempts to interact with others more than anyone I know. Sometimes he’s actually pretty good at it. For example, he has learned that reading a name tag and then addressing a waitress by her name is a great way to encourage conversation and make someone feel important.

His peers don’t always know what to make of his friendly banter; adults, for the most part, are amused and awed by Evan and his complementary ways. If you’re a girl with lots of ringlets, expect him to start a conversation with “I love your curls.”

On a recent hot and sunny afternoon, Evan had the majority of our community swimming pool -– kids and adults – playing his version of Marco Polo. The game consisted of Evan saying “Marco” and waiting for people to respond appropriately. When they did, they were rewarded with an exuberant “You said it. You won.”

Evan loves talking to people and has no problem doing so, wherever he is. Last week he used a porta-potty at a festival. There were no sinks or hand sanitizer. I was too embarrassed to ask for the sanitizer from more than a few moms waiting in the food line with me, but Evan enthusiastically accepted the task by marching up and down the line and asking everyone until he got some.

4. People remember him. Like Norm on “Cheers,” wherever we go we’re often greeted by a chorus of “Hi, Evan.” The downside of this is it sometimes makes his siblings feel invisible, but on the whole people tend to be drawn toward those who are perceived as fun and outgoing, and Evan can be both with a splash of childhood charm and quirkiness.

“You’re weird in a good way,” I tell him.

Last summer, Evan participated with more than 100 other kids in a one-week program that teaches individuals with special needs how to ride a bike. When the director returned this year, the one kid she remembered was Evan because of his outgoing personality.

Evan on the world's tallest swing ride (traveling at 60 mph).

Evan on the world’s tallest swing ride (traveling at 60 mph).

5. He isn’t afraid of any amusement park ride, except the ones that might be dark. Earlier this summer we went to Cedar Point, “the Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” It was the first time Evan was tall enough to ride some of the scarier thrill rides and coasters. I did spike his hair (but just a bit) because he was technically a hair (pun intended) shy of 48 inches.

He loved them all. The only ride he was too scared to go on was the train (dark tunnel). Nothing was too fast, too high or too much of a puke machine for this nine-year-old daredevil.

Watching my son ride coasters that scare the living daylights out of me is, well, humbling, to say the least. I couldn’t help but wish I had the guts to ride alongside Evan as he was having the “best day ever.”

6. The simplest things bring him the greatest joy. Hearing his favorite song, seeing the moon or putting on performances are all things that he loves. You can see the excitement and enthusiasm in his face. And if you can’t, he’s the first to tell you how much he loves something in a tone that replicates the exuberance of a lottery winner or Heisman Trophy recipient.

How great it must be to experience such pure and spontaneous joy on a daily basis. I find it regularly in the simple things like cuddling my kids or watching them play nicely together. I also experience that level of happiness when I’m enjoying an outdoor activity, attending a baseball game or traveling. But, the difference between me and Evan is that I usually have to consciously think about it while he just experiences it.

7. When he wants to learn or master a new skill, Evan finds the determination and focus to work hard at achieving his goal. Whatever activity Evan is interested in, he can work at it for hours. Right now it’s gymnastics. He practices handstands, front walkovers, cartwheels and one-handed cartwheels for hours at a time.

This is a kid who inherited his attention deficit issues from his mom, so I’m both surprised and jealous that he has the ability to work hard at mastering his most sought-after skills. In the past few years I have wanted to learn to play piano, take up violin, write a book and start a blog. One out of four isn’t bad.

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