A few months back, I got an email asking a few of us special needs moms to share the “gifts” of special needs parenting. The responses would be published and the world would probably be a better place. I like to see my name in lights as much as anybody else, but I looked over at my autistic son who was talking to a crayon, I looked down at the stack of bills due this month, and said, yeah, maybe not today.
But the question stayed with me.
Don’t misunderstand me here. My son is amazing, and I love parenting this kid. But the question, as I decided to interpret it anyway, was what is great about parenting a child with special needs, not what is great about your kid with special needs. The latter is a much easier answer, but that’s not the answer I set out to find.
I thought about it. If you get past the therapies and the bills and the education issues and the worrying about the future, keep going beyond all the doctors and the teetering patience and the stress, if you really, really look, is there something back there, hiding, that is uniquely awesome about all this?
I had come up empty-handed for a few months now. But then…
We were cruising through the Ace Hardware, and my son found some PVC piping. He plopped himself down on the floor, grabbed a few pieces, and started configuring them together. A sales woman approached us, asked if we were finding what we needed, and in response, my son asked, “Oh hi, can you make a B-29 from this?” The sales woman said to me what everyone says to me, “I think you have an engineer on your hands here.” I smiled, and said what I always say. “Maybe.”
My son’s measurable mechanical talents live right next door to the fact that, at 8, he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in the middle of the PVC aisle at Ace Hardware and assemble WWII aircraft. An engineer? Maybe. The truth is I don’t really care.
Wait. Say that again. The truth is I don’t really care. At all. I have no attachment to any plan that my son become an engineer, a pilot, or the CEO of the next Google.
I have great attachment, however, to the hope that he is happy.
In the middle of a hardware store, I stumbled upon the special needs parenting pot of gold. If my son were typical, if we didn’t work so, so hard on what comes naturally to other kids, I can assure you that I would have his happiness tied to long-term education and career goals, all bundled together with socially-praised measures of success.
I have absolutely none of that.
I want my son to find his place in this world, wherever that is, and I want him to be happy. That’s it. I think this is about as pure and lovely as it gets. For the first time ever, I can honestly thank autism for something.