Dear Autism

Dear Autism,

You are the reason why my little boy gets passionately invested in particular things the way that he does. Ever since he was tiny it has always been this way, because of the wiring of his brain shaped by you.

Before he could talk, and sometimes after, he has gotten frustrated with my inability to understand his loves. I have never tried to discourage him, Autism. I think that the way he loves things is gorgeous, and I have so much fun watching him. It’s just that when his interests change from one thing to the next, I am slower to pick up on it than he is. I don’t understand them intrinsically, gutturally, the way he wishes that I could. For him, the new passion is all-encompassing, a burning nova at the heart of the universe. And for me, I am just a scientist observing. I sometimes need too many data points in order to understand what he is trying to say.

I know you have been there for the thrown cars and trucks and blocks that weren’t the right one. The favorite of yesterday but not the beautiful hyperfocus of today. Or lined up or put away in the wrong places: an accidental chafing, a physical discomfort, because I did not understand yet, because I had not observed enough to understand.

I remind you of all of this, Autism, because I want to thank you for a moment that happened last week. When my daughter fell in love with a new box of toys from Christmas, a kitchen set with several dozen little plastic foodstuffs littered across the floor. She shifted each day between favorites. Monday it was a carrot and a pineapple she carried everywhere, Tuesday it was a fish and a stack of green peas, Wednesday it was a whole turkey and a pile of French fries and a cluster of purple grapes. She does not quite love things with the same burning intensity that he does. But she goes back to the same toy again and again throughout the day.

She fell off of something and hurt herself, not badly, but enough to cry for my attention, and I was sitting with her and comforting her. And we both looked up when he dropped three toys in our laps: a whole turkey, and a pile of French fries, and a cluster of purple grapes.

You are the reason that he loves so intensely, Autism, the reason that he loves so Autistically, so authentically. You are the reason that he dug through 50 small plastic food pieces to find the exact ones that he noticed she had chosen for the day, and brought them to her when she was sad. People say that you steal empathy but you and I both know that isn’t true. Like everything else a part of the human experience, you hold empathy, sometimes in great bounds; like everything else a part of the human experience, it may or may not be touched by your deep, unique neurology.

[Image description: A picture of my hand holding 3 plastic food toys: a turkey, a pile of french fries, a cluster of grapes. End description.]

I wanted to write this letter to you, Autism, because of many I have seen in the past that seemed unnecessarily slanderous. Because the good is not in spite of you and the bad is not because of you any more than it is bad for a square not to fit through a circular hole or good for a circle to do so. Because we have constructed our society to keep you out instead of welcoming you in, and I’m sorry for the years and years of that, and I want to shift it, hand in hand with you and all of the people I love.

I’m learning to hear what you say in your language and I heard it this time. I wanted you to know. Thank you.