Sorry, but My Autistic Kid Is Probably Nicer Than Your Kid

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You're in the supermarket, and you see a little guy flapping. Maybe he's spinning the wheels of the cart, or making sounds like a strangled goose. Or, if he were my son, he'd be meowing at your feet (that is, if you have a nice pedicure). You're a little freaked out, and why not? There's a human doing some pretty weird things. What's he going to do next?

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Let me tell you what he will do: Nothing. Or nothing that will harm you, anyway. Chances are, that weird little dude is getting through life as best he can with the neurosystem he has. The only bad thing going on right now is that you're meeting an autistic kid when he's not in his comfort zone. And when he is on his game? Well, he may be very much like my 14-year-old son Gus.

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See, my autistic kid is almost definitely nicer than your kid. Sorry, but it's true. Your kid is almost definitely quicker, more ambitious, and more determined to take on the world. Yours will be running a Fortune 500 company or a law firm; she will be ministering to people's bodies or souls or raising a family or running marathons. Mine will do none of those things. Yours will probably be trying to figure out what ladders to climb. Mine will be delighted to be on any of the rungs at all, and I will be delighted for him. But if he becomes, say, a Walmart greeter, when he wishes you a nice day he will mean it with all his heart.

My kid tells me how beautiful I am every day, when by "beautiful" he means "clean." The bar is low. My kid can't throw a ball or button a shirt or use a knife or, sometimes, grasp the difference between reality and fantasy. Yet, oddly, he can play Beethoven on the piano so movingly he will make you cry. If he's gone somewhere once, he can find his way there again, next month and next year and possibly for the rest of his life. He believes, sometimes, that machines are his friends and he doesn't quite understand what a human friend is. But he feels he has them and he always wants more.

The idea that autistic people are not as feeling or empathetic is laughable to anyone who spends time with an autistic kid. Gus's passions are age-inappropriate, but they are possibly deeper and more heartfelt than anyone you know. Last month we went on a Disney cruise. During an extravaganza called "The Villain Show," he screamed, "I LOVE YOU URSULA" like a tween at a Katy Perry concert; I was only glad he didn't have a lighter with him because he has no coordination and he would have torched the place. The next night, there was a party of all the Disney characters. Minnie and Mickey were holding hands, and gave each other a nose-kiss. "Did you see that, Mommy?" whispered Gus solemnly. "I think they are truly in love."

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He is the average kid with autism. He may or may not work, may or may not have independence, friendships, partners ... He is, like so many others, the adored, frustrating Question Mark. Maybe that's your child. Or maybe it's a child you know. And brood about. And love.

And if you see that flapping kid in the supermarket, wave. Say hi. Fist-bump. Welcome him into your day. He may or may not say hi back. But he will know. And so will his mother.

Adapted from To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines (Harper), by Judith Newman.

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