For behavior therapy sessions we are often encouraged to include/integrate a peer model and take public outings. Yesterday we went to the neighborhood park (as we often do) armed with myself, our behavior therapist (who is amazing), my son, and his friend. As an aside, I purposefully chose the word friend instead of "typical peer model" because of the impact that word has in print. There it is... Friend. This girl is amazing. A role-model, blessing, warrior-poet, and angel all rolled into one tidy little 6 year old package. I could not say enough how much she means to my family and, more importantly, to my son. I promise I will write her Swan Song in another blog.
So, we're at the park and Jack, my son, has found a new friend. A tall, gawky, red-head, boy who might be 13 or so. Jack and his new friend have developed a chasing, tag-like game. They are running all over the park, squealing with the delight that only children have. At a quiet moment, I asked my son if he was having fun with his new friend. "Yes". "Why do you like him so much?" "Daddy, he is like me. He is different like me".
Jack's new friend was also autistic. His squeals suggested he was non-verbal and closer to the severe end of the spectrum.
My heart instantly sank. Not because I did or didn't want Jack to hang out with other children with disabilities, not because I feared for his safety, or even because I might be looking at him in 8 years, but because he had said he was "different, like me".
"Why do you say that?" I managed to ask around the lump in my throat.
"His name is Jack, too"
I verified with his mother that it indeed was and the "Autism Speaks" sticker on their car confirmed my diagnosis.
I've been in this world for a little bit now... I consider myself a veteran of raising a child with special needs. Some of my peers do. Some of my readers do. Some of my family does.
I openly admit the hardest thing I will ever have to do is tell my son he has autism. I will have to tell him that he is different and mommy, daddy, and his sister are not. I will have to accept responsibility for all the choices we have made for him, good and bad.
I am not ready for that.
It didn't happen yesterday, it didn't happen today, but it will happen tomorrow.
I just keep praying that Tomorrow is a long time.