Sawyer received a diagnosis of Autism largely because of one behavior, which I called pretending. In many ways, it was typical childhood behavior. While pretending, he was, like a lot of children, entering into a dream of a story he was imagining. But while imagining this story he would also run back and forth, hum loudly, thump on his chest, and go so deeply within this dream that it was difficult to get his attention even if I was standing right in front of him.
Perhaps as you read this now it is obvious enough why his parents would see this behavior as a problem. In fact, this was not initially the case. All kids pretend, after all. Max, our older son, used to run back and forth and flap his hands while he dreamed up his stories. A friend of my wife’s who taught high school noticed this behavior and said, “When they see that they’ll call him autistic, you know.” How absurd, I thought. Why label someone because he flaps his hands? Quirky as he sometimes was, Max was in fact never diagnosed with anything other than a sharp sense of humor.
So neither my wife or I saw Sawyer’s humming and thumping and deep pretending as a problem. Until, that is, his preschool teacher mentioned that she thought someone from the state ought to observe him. Somehow, over the next six months, after he was observed and tested, after we had met with experts and arranged for therapies and wondered about schools, his pretending became a problem, which meant we had to solve it. A problem, you see, is a threat to our wellbeing – and a threat to our wellbeing is intolerable, for our wellbeing, in the end, is all that actually matters.
Though Sawyer’s behavior has evolved and changed over the years – evolved, in fact, to the point where, depending on the circumstance, one might be surprised to learn he ever received any kind of diagnosis – we never did solve the problem of his pretending. We could not fix what wasn’t broken, fill what wasn’t empty, correct what wasn’t incorrect.
But we were and are still his parents, which means we have a relationship with him, which means we must choose what we will do and say in his company. We want to do and say what is best for him and us. We are not passive. But when we made choices that were in response to a threat that didn’t actually exist, we succeeded only creating a drama from which we all wished to escape.
In this way, we were all pretending. If Sawyer’s behavior was a threat, then Sawyer was an enemy. Now, in our little drama we had an antagonist called autism that dwelled within our son, and it was impossible to tell where friend and enemy diverged. When an enemy has entered my home I will make one choice; when a friend is asking for help, I will make another. These two choices, clear as they might appear, often blur as quick as a thought can cross my mind. Fortunately, the choice of what I will believe always remains mine, just as my wellbeing remains unhurt by all the imaginary arrows I have dreamt.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.