My editor directed me to Lisa Quinones’ blog Autism Wonderland (now linked to on your right). Catching up on it this morning, I came across this:
Lisa observes her son in numerous social situations and his inability to engage in play activities with other children. She shares, “It hurts because I feel like maybe he’s missing out on something special. That he’s being cheated out of the joy of just being a kid.”
I was thinking along those lines recently, as Nate and I sat together and talked about his old Lincolnshire friends/classmates. Since I was already on Facebook, I looked up two of them, James and Maddy. James, Nate’s first friend and first nemesis (see the post “Cyber-summer School”), plays a huge role in Nate’s ongoing, narrated out loud, personal history. For reasons good and bad, Nate talks about James quite a bit, though they haven’t seen each other in seven years.
Maddy was a sweetheart who was always nice to Nate and came with the whole family, as Nate just reminded me with great detail, “to Michael’s for dinner and Monsters Inc in November 2001, remember?”
I showed Nate the profile pictures of his two lost friends, now adults, and asked if he’d like to get in touch with them. He declined then, and told me today, “maybe next time,” which likely means “never.”
My first thought was, like Lisa’s, “he’s missing out.” I’ve certainly had that thought over and over again over the past 17 years since Nate’s diagnosis. But I frequently come to another conclusion; he’s not.
It’s difficult to disentangle my desires for Nate’s “normalcy” from his own, quite strong, sense of what he needs. As I watched him grow up, friendless in the sense we think, he only once talked to me about his solitary situation.
“I don’t have any friends,” he said calmly when he was 15 or 16.
“Nate, does that make you sad?” I asked, now hurt and trying to stifle tears.
As I spoke to Nate about friendship and how to make it, he had moved on. That was the first and last time he brought it up. Once he became capable of expressing himself emotionally, Nate’s been willing to talk about his experiences.
To some degree, Nate’s distance has protected him from the usual hurts and punishments that the average teen takes as his daily lot. Unlike most, he was rarely teased in school, and when he was, he usually didn’t get it, taking all the sting out of the barb. Autism had its own built in force field.
So I look at him, always, and wonder what Lisa does: is he missing out? And the answer to that is an obvious yes. But does it matter to him? Not really, and that gives me some needed peace of mind.
I look at my other sons, who also, in their own way, have each forged their own identity, with their own sense of what being a kid is all about. When I see them as a group, Nate doesn’t seem outside the norm.