“The smell of someone who has ridden the back of the wind, Peter. The smell of a hundred fun summers, with sleeping in trees and adventures with Indians and Pirates. Oh remember, Peter? The world was ours. We could do everything or nothing. All it had to be was anything 'cause it was always us” (Hook 1991).
When do any of us truly grow up? Is it when we finish college? Is it when we buy our first car and house? Is it when we get married? For me, it was gazing into my son’s eyes for the first time and to not only feel joy, but also see a reflection of myself. He has my eyes and the innocence that we are all born with. What is the first thing that I wanted for my son, Sky, I wanted him to be happy. For him to not just have a happy childhood, but also I want to teach him be happy as a grown up too. Someone once asked a young John Lennon what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded that he wanted to be happy. His teacher responded that wasn’t a real job and she totally dismissed him. This story struck me as I am writing this blog because not only was Lennon on the spectrum, but he was being rejected for what parents everywhere could universally wish for their child, happiness. When do people on the spectrum every truly grow up?
For kids on the spectrum, our childhoods are seen as different because “our second star to the right and straight on till morning (Hook 1991)” often is not in the same place as it is for neurotypical kids. It is often in our minds like “you know that place between sleep and awake, the place where still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I will be waiting” (Hook 1991). As a parent of a child on the spectrum, do you wonder if my child will ever be able to show that he loves me? Here is the thing we do love our families and friends so much, but we may not always be able to express it. It is like we are trapped in the bottle waiting to burst out like Robin Williams in Aladdin. As our parents, your mission is to be our Tinker Bell, Gandalf the Grey, and the cook who makes the only and single food we are willing eat for the first 20+ years of life. More importantly you are first people to love us exactly as we are. “If you can't imagine yourself being Peter Pan, you won't *be* Peter Pan” (Hook 1991).” I am asking you the parents to imagine what it would be like to do everything your mind or body wants without a social filter.
Autistic children need something to fill the gap of our nonexistent social filter, which is where play and stories comes in. When it comes to self-expression and Autism, we are very introverted because we have no idea how to fly. These stories and play always end the same way with us feeling joy in its purest form, which is the feeling you get after a long journey. What children learn in these experiences will be to reflect on how they show love and happiness as they get older. Now there will be moments that will challenge your family some you have faced already and many others yet to come, where you think the stress will overcome you all. I must remind you that all parents face such moments with your kids autistic or not. “And there is only one thing we can say to [stress], Not today” (Game of Thrones)!
“And I come back to you now at the turn of the tide” (Gandalf). Taking your children into the world can either leave you full of anxiety or it can be a wonderful adventure. Basically, it is how you choose to see these experiences and this will be reflected in your actions as you set an example for your child. For the parents out there who feel like their family has been robbed of their child’s childhood because of Autism; I want you “think twice, it’s alright” (Bob Dylan). You are your child’s war council; you are his beacon for hope and all things to advocate for. Then comes the day that you have been waiting for, which is when he wields the tools that experiences and you have given him. What I am trying to say here is that your child’s life does not have be all: school, therapy, and IEP meetings; please remember he is still a child. That you playing with your child will reduce his anxiety and teach him many of the values and ideals you wish him to know. As parents, I ask you what did Peter Pan teach you? That it is important to learn how to fly because that is the key us becoming extroverted individuals. How does Peter Pan fly? He thinks of happy thoughts, thus, it is important to learn how to be happy even when life fires its cannon balls at you in the sky.
So when do children on the spectrum grow up?
“Frodo : I can't do this, Sam.
Sam : I know. It's all wrong By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for” (Lord of the Rings)
As our parents it is important for you to be the first to not tell us what we cannot do because we are autistic. It is your job to celebrate what we can do in both our small and big victories no matter when they happen. If your child does not speak until he is 7 or 20 that is still a victory! That he is amazing because he and you will actually learn to appreciate every word he said (via his voice or something he types out on a computer or sign language). It will lead to you appreciating all your child’s victories that most parents take for granted like the ability to speak. What a gift autism is onto you the parents and your child! The gift of hearing your child declare the first self-advocating statement of his life, I am! By playing with your child and reading them these magnificent stories you are telling your child you deserve to be here: to speak, to express yourself, and to fly! That even if your child are too small to understand everything you’re trying teach him, there will be a day when he will remember these stories. He will use them to inspire himself to connect with others and live his life to the fullest. You, our parents will always remember bringing us to Neverland where you taught us to never give up and there is no bigger victory you can give us then happiness!