Taking my two children to the park sparks two very different emotions for me. My older son, Connor, 6, loves to play football or soccer or basketball and can make new friends wherever we go. My 4-year-old, Matthew, however, is timid and usually ends up hanging out alone.
You see, my Matthew has autism and is currently nonverbal. He loves the playground, probably more than Connor does, but can’t properly express that to us. But I can see it on his face. The release he gets from the outdoors, from climbing and jumping, is really something to behold—as he’s jumping up and down, Matthew’s smile expresses his pure joy at being outside. I often catch him looking for Connor and smiling when he sees him running around, but he always remains near the slide or the swing, typically with a snack in hand (you know, his happy and safe place).
And then it happens: Connor will casually say to whomever he is playing with at the time, “I’m going to say hi to my brother,” and stop whatever game he’s playing to run over, give Matthew a kiss, and ask him to say “hi” and to give him a high-five. Then off he goes running again. I don’t think he’ll ever really know how much Matthew depends on his love or how easily he can melt my heart. Connor just sees his little brother, not the autism. He is his teacher, best friend, and advocate. So while I’m feeling stressed trying to keep Matthew from holding up the slide line, not wanting other moms to start judging, Connor just sweeps in as a reminder to pause and enjoy being at the park with my two boys. Not all moms with children who have special needs can do that. He reminds me how very blessed and lucky I am.
Melissa Matthews Brown is a writer in Cranford, New Jersey.