A Normal Life? My Son’s Journey With Autistic Self-Awareness, by Rachel Fusselman

“I believe your son has autism.” I was so busy wrestling kids in the pediatrician’s office that day that the words didn’t sink in. I didn’t even know what autism was. I do remember, however, the first thought that popped into my head was, “Will my son lead a normal life?” Fast forward years later, and we see an 11 year old young man in tears outside during recess. His best friend is sitting next to him, full of empathy because the whole world today seems to be bullying him. In the mind of this 11 year old, everything sucks. He doesn’t understand. The normal plights of middle school are amplified. He makes a choice at that moment to do something he’s never done before.

“I’m sorry I’m so emotional right now. I’m having a hard time. I have autism.”

This one moment that happened recently filled my heart with hope. It was the first time he had ever told anyone of his special need. Normal is relative in this house. We don’t believe in normal. We believe in being yourself and doing your best. My son’s self-awareness of what it means to have autism went from being constantly frustrated and not knowing why, to understanding why but being ashamed and feeling cursed, to the current state of things: slowly embracing that this is a part of who he is. Autism is a gift.

Seeing my son work out his feelings with autism is so bitter-sweet. On the one hand, I want him to be happy and realize the big adult things that I’ve come to realize: don’t let bullies stop you from doing what you love, they don’t understand you as a whole person, embrace who you feel called to be, tomorrow is another day, etc. But that’s the beauty of growing up; it sucks, but we all must learn these lessons for ourselves. For an autistic child, it’s no different.

That day, he came home crying. I wanted to pull him from school and shelter his heart. I wanted to call up that bully and give him a piece! Instead, my husband and I talked things out with him. We called up his therapist, who went through a “bully course” with him- complete with an autistic kid’s dream- a list! The next day, he knew what to do and came home with a huge smile on his face. He realized that the bully was just one person he needed to pray for and that he has lots of friends who love him at school. And you know what? That weekend, he met with a group of friends, including the bully, at the park for a football playdate and had the time of his life! I overheard him saying to his siblings that evening, “It was weird! So-and-So was my bully at school, but we were best friends during the playdate!”

Middle school parenting is uncharted for us. We are taking it day by day. But Luke is now a helper! His new independence and self-awareness in this journey aid us as his parents with a new swell of optimism for his future! Our child is growing into his own: a brave autistic young man.

A native of Cajun, South Louisiana, Rachel is a wife & stay-at-home autism mom with 4 kiddos living life enthusiastically in Allen, TX. She blogs at rosesforchrist.wixsite.com/rosesforchrist or you can find her on twitter @RayRayFuss

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