Every morning I wake up to messages from people on social media. Most are well-meaning. Many are kind. A few are awful. Some are bizarre. And some, tell me how to raise my son. And how I’m doing it wrong.
They tell me what I should be doing, how I can do it better, and what I can and cannot say about him.
I’ve gathered a list of what I cannot say. I cannot say he has autism. Or is autistic. I can’t say he is nonverbal or nonspeaking. I can’t say he is severe or severely affected. I can’t say he is level three, even though the MN Department of Health classifies him as so. I can’t say disabled or special needs.
When I think back to the night he was born, after what felt like days of labor, and I finally held him in my arms, never did I think describing my son would be so complicated.
Maybe it’s just best to not say anything about autism. Hide him away. Pretend. As if the intention is to erase the word autism. Because that scolding that is dished out to well meaning parents is exhausting.
His dad and I are not embarrassed. We are not ashamed. Autism is not a dirty word. It is not negative. It is not sad. And we don’t whisper it. We say it proudly and with courage.
We are raising him to be proud of who he is. His siblings too. They will be fierce advocates, standing up for people who see the world differently until one day, the fighting stops. And autism is no longer taboo.
I don’t want to fight anymore because it doesn’t get us anywhere. So here goes…
This is Cooper. He is 13 years old and he loves trains and his family. When he is happy, he hums and flaps his arms. When he is anxious, he covers his ears.
When he wants to play, he tickles people’s feet. He can communicate in a dozen different ways and he smells like the wind.
He was also born with autism, a lifelong condition that is woven through him like the thread that holds a quilt together. It is strong. Some people hide their thread. But his is visible all the time. It is bright red and dark blue. And strong. Unbreakable.
He makes the world a better place by being here. And anyone who knows him is lucky. He is exactly who he is supposed to be and as his family we couldn’t be prouder of the person he is.
Keep being you kid. You have an army behind you.
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