By Brenna Furness
In honor of Autism Acceptance month, I have written a short piece on life with our son, Jack. Recently, in a conversation with our 4 kids, we discussed the current statistic that 1:68 children have autism. You could see the light go on in our son Oliver’s head when he concluded, “So what you’re saying is that if Jack is one in sixty eight, we won the JACKpot when he was born!” Yes, indeed, we did and with Jack’s permission I share a small piece of our story with you.
Our son came into this world on a warm Autumn day. It was the fall of 2008, seven days past my due date. This time around, we had chosen to birth in the quiet comfort of our home. Jack was born into my own arms and I was the first person to ever make eye contact with him. It wasn’t until recently that I would come to understand how incredibly beautiful those first gazes were and what a treasured gift they are now.
Our diagnosis came when he was five. The tests, the visits to the therapists, trips to the doctor all revealed that Jack was “on the spectrum.” No amount of research or conversations with professionals could prepare me for the tremendous amount of love and grace that would follow Jack’s diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the years that ensued. In layman’s terms, our Jack has Asperger’s syndrome.
Characteristically, he does not make frequent eye contact, is very literal, struggles with empathy, making friends and obsesses about things/subjects that interest him. I was given all the facts, uncertainties and together Jon and I cried, got angry, cried some more and quietly resolved to do whatever was within our power to make family life as wonderful as possible for all of our four kids.
Moving from the place of frustration opened us up to the things the doctors and therapists never told us. We were not prepared for the intensity that Jack has when it comes to the things that interest him. The doctor’s call it “perseveration.” I call it passion. He reads, he memorizes, he talks and then he repeats; again, and again and again. He knows all there is to know about what interests him. Even if it is just that one thing: reptiles. Can you imagine investing that kind of intensity into your interest area? He can’t help it. It’s how he is made. Parenting that kind of potential has increased my faith and made me a better student, a better advocate and a better human.
Jack’s therapist told me he would always struggle with social cues and might always say what he was thinking, no matter how hurtful or inappropriate. She never told me how uninhibited he would be with his opinion and his ideas. She didn’t tell me how beautiful it is to watch him share his thoughts without wondering what people think about him or trying to conform to a correctness that is socially acceptable. Watching Jack in his freedom to speak, however challenging has made me realize how bound I choose to be with my own voice and how much fear I have in saying just what I think.
Simultaneously he has taught me how to listen. Jack likes to say things in groups of threes, “Mom, Mom, Mom” or “Dad, Dad, Dad” “Can I play Minecraft, when can I play Minecraft, how many minutes, how many seconds until I can play Mine craft?” I have learned that important answers bear repeating!
We were warned that Jack wouldn’t make eye contact very frequently but they never told us that when he does look me in the eye, he actually beholds me, he sees me and I see him and that however infrequent those moments are, they are the most treasured gift from God because they come at just the right time, the times I feel like a terrible mom because I can’t figure this whole thing out, or because I am tired and weary, the times I question myself as to whether I am doing enough to help him, and in the times when I have prayed “why” and “how” and have not received an answer.
I used to be afraid Jack wouldn’t fall in love, the idea of “falling” into anything is scary, but when he looks into my eyes I see the capacity for him to love deeply and to be loved. I see the way he makes people feel special because he does the little things with such intention and timing. When he can’t find the words, Jacks sometimes describes his feelings in color, red is frustrating, blue is sad and yellow is happy. Someday I will write about how “gold” is a second chance.
Jack’s doctor told me he would be smart, she never prepared me for that morning he woke me up, excitingly asking me if I ever see numbers because he sees fifties all around, he sees them in his head and when they come to mind he likes to group them into five and then six and then seven and then skip count by fifties, multiply by fifties, divide by fifties and then onto the next thing “What’s for breakfast?”
They forgot to tell me about his photographic memory and how I would never get away with breaking promises. But why should I? Promises are supposed to be kept. They said he wouldn’t “get” humor or sarcasm, but what they don’t see is how clever Jack is with his humor. Why do we say “Pick up the living room!” when it can’t physically be done?! His chuckles are refreshing and his humor is evident. I bet you don’t know what a hippy’s favorite bone is? It’s the hip bone! He likes to tell that one again and again…and again. But that’s our son Jack. And that’s what it’s like being 1 in 68. And as our son Oliver says, “That’s what it’s like winning the “JACKpot.” You never forget the hippy joke, you long for eye contact, you learn new ways to think of numbers, you hope and you pray and you listen to the doctors but you listen to your heart more and you choose not to be afraid and you stop the worrying and cast out the fear and you resolve in your heart and in your mind and in your soul to take each day as it comes, each experience as it happens and to realize that sometimes winning is actually losing the facts in exchange for the faith that is required to embrace the idea that some things are as they should be.
Brenna Furness, Mom of 4, Business Owner, Law Student and CLC Collective Contributor