Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What not to say and other conversation starters

Some pretty remarkable things are happening in our little green house and, as you can imagine, I just want to talk about it. This blog has been a good outlet but I'm out of practice and I have to admit that I feel a little uncomfortable sharing our story sometimes. Thousands of people have visited this blog since I started writing again and that feels a little weird. Part of the reason I continue though is that so many have told me what our story has meant to them. 

And then there is this other reason. The one behind today's post.

For the first few weeks after Oliver began communicating I kept telling people about what was going on thinking: Someone should DO something. Like, you know, someone else. Someone with more knowledge and understanding about boys who can't communicate much at all and then suddenly open up like the unfolding of the most beautiful flower you've ever seen. What I've found most remarkable is that I haven't had to struggle or teach him anything. It was all laying just below the surface, a bundle of potential just waiting until this moment.

But, how do I explain this to the people around me in a way that makes sense? I was at a gathering a few weeks back. Oliver had just that day -- the hour before -- told me that he could multiply and that he learned it from looking in one of RT's** school books years ago. Skeptical, I tried it out, writing out equations then handing him the pen. It was like a game of ping-pong with a fast and sure opponent. At some point I had to get up and get a calculator to keep up.

So at the gathering I found myself feeling that now-familiar dazed feeling and like I really should be telling someone about this!!! But these were people who didn't really know Oliver. They might not have known anything much about autism come to think of it. So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when two people said some version of: "Wow! Maybe he'll be talking soon!" and one person asked: "But what are his social skills like?" All three comments kind of brought me down -- which I didn't think possible -- and they've managed to linger in the back of my mind despite Oliver's daily incredible awesomeness.

It makes me sad to think that someone might just look straight past all this kid has achieved and can offer to those around him and see only the hand-flapping and hear only the noises he makes and take note only that the kid doesn't talk. They diminish his abilities by seeing them only in the context of what he can't do. Is this what they call ableism? Are people assuming that he has less value as he is, that the goal is to make him like everyone else? Indistinguishable from his peers? Are his achievements really nothing if he can't talk?  If he still struggles with other things that make him so different?

Well, despite the fact that I kept thinking that somebody should do something with regards to Oliver and his new-found ability to overcome whatever obstacles were keeping him "blocked" until the brave age of nine -- I've long suspected that there really is no one else. It's up to Oliver. And me. And all the other people who love him to be supportive and caring despite whatever obstacles that block the rest of us from time to time.

It's up to all of us to keep talking, to keep the conversation going, to keep telling people about the incredible awesomeness of our kids. Because Oliver is as special and amazing and singularly unique as every other person who walks on the face of the earth. No more. No less. And I want people to know it so that Oliver inherits a place in this world where his worth is never questioned.

As Temple Grandin says: Different not less.

And that's something that's worth talking about.

** RT when I started this blog, RT was, in fact, the Resident Teenager. In 2012, however, he is no longer either a Resident of the little green house or a teenager! Time flies!!!


  1. Ouch. Yes I know that all some people see when they look at Henry is the hand-flapping and all they hear is the odd noises...

  2. This reminds me of a quote by Anne Ohman on my blog sidebar, something about how other see something "lacking" in our kids, while we are dazzled by who they are. It's sad that while you see *Oliver,* and the tremendous strides he's made, others see only how he compares to the profile of a "typical" child. To me this shows a lack in society, not in our children.

  3. I know. I want people to know that he has autism -- that's a huge part of who he is and why he is so, so amazing and wonderful. But I want people to understand both parts of that sentence.