(Because this was written in response to a visit with a woman and her Autist son, I have chosen to use the pronoun ‘he’—thus avoiding the difficult s/he linguistic battle. This piece is written in the spirit of an invitation into an alternative kind of perspective taking; a different way of looking at Special Needs outside of the linear geometry imposed upon us by this culture.)
What if I told you there is nothing wrong with your son?
What if I told you it was our designation of “cognitively normal” that is the problem?
What if you decided to meet your son in his world instead of forcing him into yours?
What if from that place, you could slowly leave a bread crumb trail of invitations, tiny window openings, and lights left on in dark hallways, a series of small simple things that could slowly invite him out into your world?
What if you acknowledged that your son’s version of the is universe is not wrong, but merely different from yours?
What if his version differed widely enough to make him a stranger to your culture like a bushman coming out of the outback, a deer coming out of the cover of the woods.
How could you teach him to live?
How could he teach you?
How would you explain the intricacies present in the act of shaking hands, saying hello, making a friend, finding a lover, a job, a life?
Putting on a pair of shoes.
What if I told you that what we need in the world is more diversity, not more monoculture?
What if what we are seeking is not right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal, but balance?
What if your son’s outside-of-the-box cognition is exactly the texture, colour, and complexity of taste that the world needs right now?
What if the importance school places on being still is a lie designed to trick us into conformity?
What if our animal bodies were designed to learn on the move?
What if we kinetically experienced the concepts we talked about in a way that engaged the whole body?
What if you invited your son out into the exterior world by moving him through it in a way that is creative, that is spontaneous, and that connects him to something that is more than human: the trees, the grass, the stars, the sky.
What if meeting your son in this way challenged the false myths upon which you have founded your life?
If you were willing to be so shaken.
What if your son understands far more than he can communicate with you?
What if his frustration and refusal to carry out the simple tasks you ask of him are catalyzed by boredom?
What if refusal is the only way he has of communicating this to you?
If you could transport yourself to twenty years from now, transport your son to twenty years from now, what would he choose to tell you about this moment?
What if just because he is not talking it doesn’t mean he is not communicating?
What if you have forgotten how to listen in a way that does not involve words?
What if our bodies are in possession of a language that is culturally easier to ignore than to listen to?
What if listening to this language plunges you into the thicket of your true life, where your dreams flash through the trees like wild animals waiting to be caught, tamed, for you to run alongside?
What if what awaits you is fear, grief, a letting go— into joy, trust, fluidity, love?
What if the isolation his behaviour creates is not a necessary truth?
What if you could invite a dog, a cat, a tree, a field to share your experience with you.
What if there was another mom three blocks away with the same child, in the same situation, with the same fenced square of grass for a backyard, the same view of her neighbour’s patio door?
How would you find her?
How could you leave that lamp lit in the hallway for yourself, the same breadcrumb trail, the same open window, letting in air that has blown all across the world?
What if it is only a damaged culture that calls its members damaged?
What if the way you chose to parent your son was the most complete way in which you could change the world?
What if you could take steps to minimize his suffering, and at the same time cultivate his gifts?
What would those steps be?
What would do you need to change within your own life to make that happen?
What if this was not romanticizing?
What if this was the truth?
What if the answers lie in asking the right questions?
What if you created the world with the questions you choose to ask?
With the way you accept what is handed to you.
What if you let your son lead?
What are his questions?
And, more importantly, how would you answer?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Owned by Author