I’m writing this letter in faith that one day you will be able to read it, understand it, and forgive us for the mistakes we are making with you.
Tomorrow is your birthday. Seven years ago, I was watching the first quarter of the Super Bowl and your mom’s water broke. I joked that it meant something. That you wanted to come out and watch the Steelers beat the Seahawks. I took it for granted that we would someday watch football games together and practice fade routs in the back yard.
Of course, that didn’t happen. You were diagnosed at three, and at the time, you didn’t want to be with us at all. We got lots of help form those sweet ladies in Eugene. You remember driving into that special school for those two years? Those were rough days for all of us. You would scream when I dropped you off, and I would bolt off to the van before your teachers could see that I was swallowing back tears. And then, as soon as I could compose myself, I would go sit down at Starbucks and fold myself into my laptop. For three hours, I would work and work and forget that my dear boy was lost inside himself. And the work would go on when we got home.
Forgive me, son, but I didn’t want to leave that Forgetting Place.
For more than two years, I lived there. I was a coward behind that screen, and I know you could feel it.
Over time, thanks mostly to your relentless mother and to those sweet teachers I mentioned, you started to see us again. You didn’t say much (you still don’t), but you could at least see us. And you decided you loved us. I could tell from the way you ran to our bedroom when you got scared at 2 am. Night was always pitch dark in that house, but you ran full speed.
I think that is when I started to wake up, too.
We play together every day now. You yell out our names (we waited a long time to hear you say “mommy” and “daddy!”), then turn and sprint away while we run after you with tickles in hand. The game would never end if you had your way, because you love repitition. You eat the same snacks, watch the same movies, wear the same clothes, and you never get tired of any of it. No, you find glory in the mundane.
You are full of more delight than any person I’ve ever known.
And while we love that about you, we are perplexed by it, too. Sometimes, your attachments are so surprising and so strong that we feel we must curb them for your own good. Like this weekend with the can of Bush Beans. You didn’t want to eat them, you wanted to carry the can to bed with you like a teddy bear. Your mom and I, we let you do it the first night, but then we said no and you got really upset. Maybe we were wrong. But like your mom said, “beans are for eating.”
We want you to be gloriously happy, but as your parents, part of our job is to teach you how to relate to the world that spins around you. We want you to learn to speak and listen; to read and write; to love God and love yourself; to make friends and discover passions. We were created for this: to know one another.
Jack, can I tell you something ugly?
I don’t want you to turn seven yet. Because the older you get the more ground I feel like we are losing. We cannot teach you fast enough or well enough. People in the checkout aisle try to talk to you now, and I usually jump in to explain your condition so they understand that you aren’t ignoring them. I want them to know you’re a good boy. It’s not your fault. If anyone is falling short, it isn’t you.
My dear boy, I want you to have a future in this world, and even though right now I admit the future scares me, we won’t give up. I may feel like going back to that Forgetting Place sometimes, but I won’t live there ever again. Your mother and I, your big sisters and even your little brothers, we will keep after you: talking and praying and getting advice and praying some more. And I trust that by the time you read this, you will understand that whether we succeeded or failed as parents, we at least ran after you when you called.
(Update, 9/22/2015: I’ve had a ton of recent traffic on this article, even though I wrote it 2 1/2 years ago. Jack has come a long way in the last couple of years. Both of us have. For a more updated picture of my journey as an autism dad, here is Jack’s 8th birthday letter (there are pandas involved, so… score!) and here is the one I wrote for him this year, in which there are great white sharks. Kind of. Thanks for visiting! -jh)