For his birthday gift to me, my son Griffin looked at me, said, “I want Daddy!” and then ran as fast as his little legs with skinned knees would take him.
He turned three although you might not know it because he can read. We’re not talking sight words here, we’re talking 50-cent, multi-syllable words. Like you could think of a word right now and write it down, and he’d read it to you. Even if he hasn’t seen it before.
You also might not know he’s three because he won’t talk to you. He might say “Hi!” to you or “How are you?”, but he won’t carry on a conversation. He can spell “elephant,” but if he saw one walking down the street he wouldn’t point and say, “Look! There’s an elephant!”
Griffin has autism. Griffin is autistic. Griffin is on the autism spectrum.
I’m still not sure which is the politically correct way to say it. For me it doesn’t matter. As Dana in the Facing Autism Project put it about her daughter…ask!
Ask. Ask why she doesn’t always make eye contact. Ask why she doesn’t scream when a spider scampers across her dinner plate, like most any person would. Ask why she sometimes repeats every word you say. It’s echolalia in case you were curious.
Please don’t just look at me and think, “What’s wrong with that child?”
Griffin asks for tickles and raises his arms until someone tickles him. And then he laughs a laugh that for me gives meaning to life, the universe, and everything.
When the concern was brought up that Griffin might be on the autism spectrum, we grieved for the future we imagined for him. I’m not saying that this was the right reaction, but it was our reaction. Any of our futures or those of our children are unknown, but autism seemed to make his and ours even more so. Smart capable people live in the basements of their parents, and individuals with autism have happy families and contribute to society in meaningful ways. But in those early months we always feared the worst.
I think one of the really tough things about autism is that it is truly a spectrum. Someone on the spectrum could go to MIT and become a rocket scientist or they may never talk and be so difficult to care for that they have to be institutionalized.
Griffin was receiving therapy through the state-provided First Steps program, but at the age of three a child must enter the school system. We met with the school. It was just the most recent of many such meetings where we sit in tiny chairs and hear everything that Griffin doesn’t do, as if we weren’t aware. This isn’t to criticize the staff at the school. They were great, and our community is lucky to have a program like theirs. It’s just that you get tired of having your kid tested all the time.
Later we heard one of the teachers said that she hoped Annie and I realized that Griffin was going to be one of those kids who went to MIT. That day I also learned that a new university was going to have a few thousand freshmen read one of my books and invite me to speak. I’m telling you this for perspective. The book news was great, but it was nothing compared to the MIT comment.
I don’t think Griffin is going to be an uber-genius or actually go to MIT, sure that’d be great, but I think that comment helped me remove this false ceiling I had placed on my expectations for Griffin. It helped me believe that Griffin could dream big dreams that he could be capable of reaching.
But before MIT or our basement, Griffin faces potty training. There’s no joy more unexplainable than watching your own child pee in the potty for the first time.
Griffin is affectionate. He has a good sense of humor. He thinks toots are funny. In January he started ABA therapy at Behavior Associates of Indiana in Muncie. His progress has been phenomenal and has allowed us to interact more as a family, and for Griffin to communicate better, and not get frustrated.
He’s playing more with his sister, Harper.
Griffin is not a normal three-year-old, but his world is still filled with possibility. He communicates like a two-year-old and reads like a six-year-old. There will always be of unknowns and questions:
Is a certain behavior autism or simply Griffin being three?
Is autism who he is, an affliction he suffers from, or is it a strength that he’s been blessed with? Do we love or curse autism?
Whenever I find myself wishing that Griffin didn’t have autism and was a “neurotypical” (aka “normal”) rambunctious little boy, another thought follows:
“Then he wouldn’t be Griffin.”
And there’s absolutely no question about that…I want Griffin.
Happy Birthday, little Griff.