Yes I am aware that he is different. He is spinning as a way to calm himself down. Busy school hallways are a trigger for him, and he spins to calm himself.
I feel a need to explain to you why.
"He lives with autism and he spins to calm himself."
Your eyes brighten a bit and what comes out of your mouth is the same response I always hear:
"Poor kid, that must be hard for him. But I've heard that most autistic kids have some kind of special talent to balance out the bad stuff. What's his talent?!"
I want to lie to you to make you feel better.
I know that you want to see some good from what you think is a bad thing.
I know that you mean no harm with this innocent question.
I want to lie so bad.
I want to believe it too.
So I lie.
"Well, he's pretty handy with a computer."
Not a lie, exactly, but most kids are these days.
Inside though, are the words I want to scream.
He doesn't have a "special" talent. In fact, less than 10% of the autistic population have some kind of savant talent.
I know it's easy to think why he would though. Most people who have autism make the headlines with amazing stories of musical, math or artistic genius. It's easier to hope for some kind of talent that will carry this family through the dark times rather than face the fact that my child will always struggle with the world around him.
When you ask about his "talent" and he knows that he doesn't have one, he feels less. He feels as though he is being judged for being "wrong" yet again.
I hug him and tell him that you mean well, and that the drawing he did of Spider-Man really did rock!
What I wish you would ask instead, is this:
"Hmm, I don't really know that much about autism but I would like to know more. Can you tell me what it's like?"
Special needs parents are always eager to share what their child is like. If you have met one autistic person, you've met just one autistic person.
Just like you, I want to share my fears for his future, his own goals in life and how we can achieve those goals. I want to share the successes too, brag just a little. So don't be scared to ask just what autism means to us.
"Want to play video games with me?"
I guarantee this will earn you a friend for life! One challenge for my son is the social aspect, and while that is difficult for him, he still wants to connect with people and when you express an interest in those interests, you are connecting with him.
And that's all any of us want, to connect and to belong.
"You have an amazing kid."
Behind his awkward speech and spinning is years of speech, occupational, and physical therapy. I had doubt in my heart that he would speak one word, let alone attend a mainstream school. The tears we both cried sometimes seemed like they would fall forever. But he worked incredibly hard to get where he is today and I want you to see what an awe inspiring kid he is -- even without "special talents"
That's what I would like you to ask instead. And trust me, even though he may not look at you as he spins past, he can hear every word we say.
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