As someone who now does a lot of public speaking, and who was a part of his own theater troupe twenty-five years ago, and who writes and shares his work every day, I am generally, shall we say, comfortable receiving other people’s attention. I understand that this puts me in a minority – public speaking seeming more frightening to most people than death. Not for me. At times I am more comfortable behind a microphone in front of a group of strangers than pacing my house alone.
Such is my orientation, though it is only in the second half of my life that I have fully understood it and sought to employ it regularly. Prior to that, I often felt ignored, perhaps never more so with Sawyer. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, Sawyer was said to have a “neurological speech disorder of unknown origin,” which was a complicated way of saying he didn’t like to listen to other people.
Sawyer was fantastic at not listening. He was a master. He could go to a place within himself that another person’s voice simply could not penetrate unless that voice was offering him cookies or ice cream. This made the business of parenting him very challenging. Getting him to school, getting him to brush his teeth, dressing him, feeding him—all these fundamental childrearing activities were made doubly hard because I was never sure when and if he heard anything I said to him.
Yet what was more difficult, and what I rarely acknowledged to myself, had nothing to do with parenting. Before I am a father and he is my son, before I am trying to feed him and clothe him and teach him, I am simply a person and he is simply a person. And as a person, I don’t like to be ignored. When I am ignored, for whatever reason, I am tempted to feel as though I don’t matter, that I am invisible, that what I have to share with the world is not wanted.
For years I lost my temper with him. I was trying to help him, you see, and he wouldn’t let me; I was trying to teach him and guide him and be is father and he just wouldn’t let me. I lost my temper because this was so frustrating. I don’t think, however, that my temper had anything to do with being his father. I cannot remember precisely when I found his listening habits less frustrating, though it seemed to start about the same I time I began writing and speaking to people about subjects I had long ignored.
It turns out, the more I paid attention to myself, the more I paid attention to how I actually wanted to live my life, the easier it was to attract Sawyer’s attention. In fact, the more I paid attention to myself, the easier it was for me to pay attention to everyone. This is the question the children we call autistic seem to be asking over and over again: How do I listen to myself and other people at the same time? Are not these two imperatives in competition with one another?
Not only are they not in competition, they are actually one and the same. I have come to understand that everything I hear is an echo of what I am thinking. The moment I pay attention to that world within me, that space from which we want the children we call autistic to emerge, the world outside of me makes sense. Now that I have sought agreement with myself, I find I am in agreement with the world, and we can begin to talk to one another.
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.