In the past when I’ve written about my son Matt and his autism, I’ve tried to focus on his many positives. And why shouldn’t I? He truly is a good little guy; a happy 4-year old boy. He loves his toys, does well in school, laughs a lot, and is as mischievous as any other little tyke I know.
Besides, focusing on negatives is defeating. Matt sure as hell doesn’t feel sorry for himself. Why should anyone else? That kid faces challenges every day of his life that I can’t even begin to imagine. Does he get depressed over it? Does he let his autism stop him from moving forward? Absolutely not. And neither should I.
Yet it can be tough to raise an autistic child. So in an attempt to be fair and balanced (I still don’t know how Fox News can say that with a straight face), I thought I’d mention some of those struggles here.
What can I say? The boy prefers to be naked. Not entirely, mind you, but most of the time he can be found wearing just his diaper or underwear. When we’re at home and it’s just us – I really don’t see the harm. Of course, it’s a different story when guests come over or he’s out in public.
The other the day I get a phone call from a highly upset wife explaining that, while at Chik-fil-A, Matt stripped down inside their little play area. The other kids were pointing and laughing; my wife felt helpless because she couldn’t get to him.
Autistic children often shed their clothes. It’s a sensory thing and is something we have to continue to work with him on. Still, it hurts to see your child being laughed at – no matter what the situation.
Matt pretty much eats when, what, and as much as he wants. Which most days translates to: rarely, junk food, and not often. The concept of breakfast vs. lunch vs. dinner means little to him. It’s a struggle most days to simply get some calories into him.
Like most kids, he’d eat candy and sweets 24/7 if allowed. Of course, it’s not allowed. Home cooked meals are hit-or-miss. McDonald’s, which used to be an awesome stand-by, is now also hit-or-miss. His favorite Chinese take-out, lo mien, doesn’t always suffice. We’ve even tried to force meal-replacement shakes on him to no avail.
As a matter of fact, while writing this, I received this text message from my wife: “Matt is eating. It’s ice cream but I really don’t care. It’s dairy with cake, flour and eggs. Whoo-hoo!”
Matt’s a runner. And a fast one at that. A few weeks ago Matt escaped out of his classroom. He darted out the door, sprinted down the hall, took a quick left and was outside to the playground before his teacher caught up to him.
His teacher, mind you, is a young, in-shape, runner herself.
Now imagine him doing that at the store, the mall, our front yard, the park, etc. My wife has trouble chasing, my in-laws don’t stand a chance, I struggle to catch him and screaming at him is a source of entertainment. There’s a constant worry he could take off, get lost, hit by a car, kidnapped, or worse.
On the bright side, though, he’s a legend at school. All the preK and kindergarten kids know him by name. He has somewhat of an iconic status as one of the few (perhaps only) kids to attempt an escape and actually make it to the outside.
So he likes to hang around the house in just his underwear – what guy reading this doesn’t? So he prefers a big chocolate chip cookie to a bowl of cereal for breakfast? We all do. And don’t tell me you’ve never dreamt of high-tailing it out of class to do something more entertaining than learning.
Matt plays by his own rules. And while he certainly needs to conform a bit more to our “norms”, there’s a certain truth to letting a kid be a kid and allowing an expression of individuality. Matt’s fine. Hell. He’s better than fine. He’s Matt.
And I guarantee there are a lot of other kids – and adults – who would do anything to be like Matt. Even if for a day.