A Letter to my Autistic Son on His 11th Birthday

Dear Jack,

You told us something the other day, something that broke our hearts. Mom pulled out the paper and pencil and sat you down in your room. She asked you how you were feeling. You said “sad,” and that you didn’t want to go to school. She kept prodding you, and you said the word “awkward.” Then she helped you find more words: “Mater the Tow Truck.” You said you were awkward like Mater. Then, you did something you almost never do: you spoke a full, clear sentence out loud. You said, “Kids laugh at me.”

Moments like this make us sad because you are sad. They make us a little angry, because people should be more kind. And they make us hopeful too, because you were able to use your words in a very special kind of way, letting us know about a tender thing happening inside you. That is what we long for more than anything, son. We want to know what is happening deep inside you. And now that we know you are hurting, it brings us back to sadness.

I think I know why you feel awkward.

It’s because you have movies playing inside your head, and you can’t make them stop. You start reciting lines from the beginning of Cars 2, where Finn McMissile is on the boat. Then you continue on through Radiator Springs. We hear the voice of Larry the Cable Guy and Owen Wilson. We hear Weezer singing that old song, “You might Think I’m Foolish,” only it isn’t Weezer, it’s you. On a trip to Portland last month, I think you made it through the whole movie.

There is a word we use for this. We call it “scripting.” Lots of people with autism do it. And it’s okay. It really is. We like it, because you can make your voice sound like the characters you are quoting and it makes us smile.

But I know, sometimes it can be embarrassing because not everybody knows you, and not everybody likes it. Sometimes they get irritated with you. Sometimes they laugh. They don’t understand how those predictable movie quotes help you to calm down in such a scary, unpredictable world. They just think you’re talking to yourself, and they can’t tell what you’re saying.

They don’t know you.

They don’t know how gentle you are when the little babies come over. They haven’t seen you bring a tissue to a crying little girl. They don’t know how much you get distressed when your brother gets hurt, or how you smile big when someone in your family comes back after being gone a few days. They don’t know that you love dance parties, or that you carry the electric salt shaker all around the house in case a waffle shows up.

No. They don’t know you, son.

But here’s the thing: there are many of us who do know you, and in our opinion, you are easily one of the top ten eleven year olds that ever was. Your heart is kind, your smile is infectious, and your Timon and Pumba impressions are straight fire. What’s more? You work so hard to communicate with us. I know it’s not easy, but you don’t ever quit.

When you let us into your world like you did on Friday, you know what it does? It actually makes you stronger. I know, that sounds silly, but it’s true. When you tell us how you hurt, it means you don’t have to hurt alone anymore. It lets us come close to you, to hug you, to cry with you, and to help you carry those heavy feelings that weigh you down. And then, we get to remind you how valuable you are, for you bear the image of God himself, and nothing—-neither seizures nor scripting nor children who laugh—-will ever separate you from His affection or ours. You are our son. Our delight.

I wish I could say life will get easier as you grow up. It won’t. Growing up means there will be more hard mornings, more mean kids, and more afternoons where your head aches because your little brother is screaming about absolutely nothing. While I can’t protect you from things that make you cry, I can promise you that you won’t have to cry by yourself. We will go through it all together, and we’ll make it, because that’s what families do. They hold each other, then they turn on Cars 2 music and dance around the living room until the laughter comes back.

Today, as you turn eleven, I want to ask you if you will let us in even more. We count it a privilege to share all the happy scenes with you, and to help you shoulder the sad ones. Indeed, it is our joy.

Happy birthday, son. I am so proud of you. We all are.

Dad



Images graciously provided by Anne Nunn Photographers. You really should go like Anne’s page.

25 replies
  1. Slobodan
    Slobodan says:

    Happy birthday, you little sparrow!!! You are great boy, your mom and dad loves you more than somebody on this world, you are great. You always joy me with your smile! I tell always to good people about your smile, and your lovely face! Just smile you Jack you are winner and always be that…HAPPY BIRTHDAY FROM ME AND MY FRIENDS LIKE YOU WHO NEVER TALK THE SECRET OF LIFE!!! Just joy and feel awesome. By, by, Jack, i know that you know me, i am with you!!! Slobodan

    Reply
  2. staceycmm
    staceycmm says:

    Jason – first of all, Happy Birthday to Jack! Second, thank you. Thank you for your tenderness as a father. Thank you for teaching fathers of special kids (and often mothers) that it is okay to feel the pain and heartache associated with raising their child with special needs and, even more so, that it is important to SHARE those feelings.

    It is so hard to put into words how, when you have a child with special needs, some of the most joyous events of our kids’ lives can hold bittersweet notes and, like this one you describe, some of those moments that would seem sad, painful or anger-inducing to most parents, can be peppered with silver linings to those of us that don’t have the ability to communicate with our special kids – especially about something like feelings.

    I’ve been inspired by your blogs recently. As a Christ follower and a mother to a 16 year old completely non-verbal child with CP, autism, severe brain damage, seizure disorder, deafness and vision impairment, I am lifted up by your words. I am reminded of the great gift of perspective God has given us through these special children and I have been reminded of the importance of sharing those experiences. Your blog is one of a small few that has helped convince me to start my own blog, which I did just a few weeks ago. I’m not sure where it will lead but if it helps me express my thoughts about raising my son or about my walk with Christ while raising my son, I will consider it a success. So, thank you for that gift.

    By the way, my blog is also on WordPress and is at http://www.collateralblessings.com. There isn’t much there yet but maybe someday…

    You, your family and, especially Jack, are a blessing!

    Stacey Cummings

    Reply
  3. Spycraft
    Spycraft says:

    Actually ‘scripting’ is planning out what to say during social encounters. When you copy accents it’s a mixture and involuntary mimicry, echolalia and echopraxia. That’s because 1) the accent comes on automatically, 2)sometimes it’s very sudden and uncontrollable quotation and 3) it’s not just the words but the actions, sometimes even the dress style is copied.

    Sorry for my rather terse correction. I’m autistic. I thought the rest of this post was heartwarming. Your boy is lucky to have such caring parents. I grew up with parents who didn’t encourage me and eventually just wanted me to change. It’s something I can’t let go of or forgive, especially as they’ve not asked for forgiveness.

    I see movies in my head too. They help me write my own science fiction. They’re practice for future social encounters and when I do socialise I do end up saying what I scripted.

    Reply
    • jason
      jason says:

      Thanks, Spycraft. Yeah, I guess “scripting” might not be the exact right term. He uses the movie quotes for all kinds of things. Sometimes he pulls them out in the perfect context, and we know what he wants. Other times, I think he’s just enjoying the film in his imagination. Anyway, thank you for the comment. Blessings.

      Reply
  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    Happy birthday to Jack! And what a great picture patience and hard work on both sides of the communication bridge. You guys are a great example of family. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  5. Jeff Guest
    Jeff Guest says:

    Well said. It’s so grim. My son had chiari malformation surgery and when they pierced the dura it let the Lyme (in his case babesia) into his brain. Every day is ridiculous and terrible. You have hope still. I’m trying to find some hope. I fear his mother and I and even the lad will all just give up and go away. I’m happy for you that autism is recognized and treated in some fashion. Lyme is the new AIDS, not accepted, not recognized in most places, scorned. Hell on Earth and now we die. So, (insert Debbie Downer horn), sorry for posting, I just wanted to share. And God bless you and your family and the boy! Please delete my post, no one cares and it’s a bad vibe. Sorry again for posting. Please do better than me and mine. I know you will.

    Reply
    • jason
      jason says:

      There’s no need to delete this, Jeff. I just wish I had something wise to say in response. I don’t, and I won’t pretend to understand what you’re going through. All I can say is I’m so sorry that you’re going through it. We weren’t created for such pain. For what it’s worth, I am a praying man, and I will lift you and your family up to God tonight.

      Reply
  6. Marianne
    Marianne says:

    Oh, I needed this post tonight. I have two boys on the spectrum, and one of them is so like your Jack. He memorizes movies and is always quoting something. His ability to bring out the perfect quote from a movie for the situation he’s facing is amazing and hysterical at the same time. (Currently it’s Wreck-It Ralph – I know I’m in trouble when he addresses me as King Candy!) But my heart always aches for the burden that my boys carry. I used to think of it as my trial – and would be a little upset at God at the difficulty He had given me, when the impression came to me that it is not my burden in this life, it is theirs. And it is my job and privilege to help them carry it for as long as they need me to. I don’t know why, but that thought kind of buoys me up in the hard times. Thanks again for sharing this. It was beautiful.

    Reply
  7. Jason @tassiedad
    Jason @tassiedad says:

    Wow. What a beautiful post. My little guy turned 3 a week before Jack turned 11. He was diagnosed last year with severe autism. I know it will be a struggle in the years to come, but reading moments like this really makes me appreciate the little things. I myself share a birthday with Jack, and I think there’s something special about people with our birthday, a kind of strength and self resilience that you won’t find in many others. I’ve battled with mental health issues for years, and I’ve maintained. Jack will be fine, I can sense it. I look forward to following your journey.
    All the best.
    Jason
    @tassiedad (twitter/Insta/Facebook)

    Reply
  8. Deanna
    Deanna says:

    Happy birthday jack. Jason you are an inspiration to so many. Your letter hit the spot for me. My daughter with high functioning autism just turned 11 on march 1st. She wanted to try cheerleading this year so we went for it. For the 1st time ever she felt she was part of something. It was amazing to watch her grow and confidence raise. Cheer was extremlly hard for her and what she did do was amazing for her. she struggles with gross motor skills and her movements wernt as sharp as the other girls. Toward the end of the season which was just a couple weeks ago. We were told by the coach that if she didnt do the moves all excatlly correct that she wouldnt be able to preform for the final competition. This is 5th grade mind you not even high school. So why they are so serious is beyond me. Yet her little bit of loosey goosey movements wasn’t good enough and they made it clear to us. So then the being part of something turned into a horrible experience. all i could do was give hugs and love and try to get her thru it. We practiced every second we could until the final moment when she did preform. She felt great. Like she overcame the hurdle. Then at the competition somehow a piece of her uniform went missing during a dress change. The season still had a couple games left and we were then told that since she didnt have her full uniform she couldnt attend the last events. It was almost like someone purposlly made sure she didnt have it. Noone on the team would come forward and say it was accidently taken. Noone knew anything yet it was missing and now she again couldnt be part of the team even after pulling thru the 1st hurdle. Why am i sharing this? Well, people are mean just as you said. People dont understand that some things are harder for others. And just because she was a little different she was basically kicked off the team. As a mother the hardest thing i go thru is her heartache and nothing being able to fix it. I didnt know what to do and all i did do was tell her how amazing she really was and how they didnt know how great she had done bcuz they do not have the same struggles. And i cryied with her and hugged for quiet a while. Your letter hit home with me even though i didnt know how to handle this, if i was doing the right or wrong thing. Or i felt as if i shouldnt have let her do cheer in the 1st place then she wouldnt be hurt right now. Plain and simple your words kinda took the dought away from me that i wasnt doing the wrong thing. She knows i will be there to cry with her no matter what life brings our way. And that is all that really matters is that we know that we have each other. Thank you for reminding me of that. Again you are an inspiration.

    Reply
  9. Grace E Audet
    Grace E Audet says:

    Your writings are always powerful, thought provoking, and honest.You, Sara, and the whole family are a team that together is touching lives in so many different ways & places. I’m honored to be a part of your lives.

    Reply
  10. Skye
    Skye says:

    This was so lovely. My son doesn’t communicate but repeats memorised lines from cars and Thomas the tank. It is so sweet your son managed to connect an emotion onscreen into his own life. I feel that sadness and I hope in time, people will be more kind and understanding ❤️

    Reply
  11. Amyg
    Amyg says:

    “It won’t” made me cry and cry. Because my son does this. It must get better. I can’t live forever, can’t protect him forever.

    Reply
  12. Check Tan
    Check Tan says:

    Well spoken. My 24 year old autistic son still practices scripting and social scenes. He is fortunately working in a cafe as the saying goes if you have met an autistic you have only met one autistic person. He is jovial, gregarious, happy, excitable and socially active. He started out non verbal but with the support of intensive early intervention and therapies he has blossom.
    So to you, just keep loving him and supporting him and just be amazed at his progress

    Reply

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