What It's Really Like To Raise a Child with Autism

My son is 8 and big for his age, but he acts like a toddler -- tantrums and all.

Just a Simple Trip to the Park.

"Eesinnuh, eesinnuh,"my son, Ben, blurts out.

I struggle to figure out what he's trying to say: It's a nut? It's a knot? It's enough?

"Eesinnuh, eesinnuh," he yells again.

Though I can't understand him, I'm happy to see he's making direct eye contact, something that took plenty of work, and training, and practice. And that he's beaming his radiant smile. Today Ben is in a good mood.

My wife always comments that when our son is happy, he is the most delightful little guy in the world, but that when he is unhappy, he is the most distressing person imaginable. She is right, except for the 'little guy' part.

Our 8-year-old son is five feet tall, weighs 150 pounds, and wears a man's size 8 double-wide shoe. He is hardly a toddler, although most of the time he acts like one. Ben has autism, and with him, anything and everything can be a major ordeal.

Autism is a disorder of neurology, not (as was once thought) of psychology -- at least for those afflicted directly. The psychological problems tend to come to those who love them.

Let me describe a recent Saturday afternoon. Ben's occupational therapist calls to cancel his appointment, and we are left without any scheduled activities for him that day, which can be a challenge. So I decide to take him to a small playground on the shores of Lake Michigan, not far from our home in Chicago.

After Ben grows tired of the swings and jungle gym, he blurts out, "Take a walk." This is actually one of his few phrases that are easily understood, even if it is often belted out for no apparent reason -- like during a bath. But we revel in all of Ben's words, because there was a time when we didn't hear any. Today his request makes sense, and I am happy to comply.

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