He stands about six foot three inches, yet as he moves through the crowded hallways at school, few people are aware of him. He is a gentle giant amongst them. He does not engage people in conversation; he will respond if you ask him a question. He follows a routine that varies little throughout his day; he does this to get by. He is one of the many children living on the autism spectrum.
Life wasn’t always this passive with my son. He was born screaming. I instantly asked what was wrong with him because it wasn’t the cry of a newborn baby; it resembled the cry of a wounded animal. He spent much of his infancy crying. There rarely was an identifiable reason for his cries, and I spent many hours walking the floors of our tiny apartment with him to soothe him.
In his baby book, I noted that the doctor was concerned at eighteen months because he was not yet speaking. My child wasn’t silent, but he did not speak words that were recognizable. His obsession was Thomas the Tank Engine, and the only way he was willing to eat was to sit in front of the television watching a show. As time passed, he would say words but not form sentences; he was four before he called me Mommy. I cried.
School was a challenge. He didn’t seem to learn, yet routine testing could not identify a problem. His teachers were frustrated, understandably. They had a child who didn’t follow the routine, who acted out for no apparent reason. As an educator myself, I knew their frustration; as a parent, I cried for this child of mine. Finally, at age eight, we had a title to put with the issue – autism, but it offered no solution to the problems.
Today, there are rare outbursts, but he is now able to explain his frustrations. He attends regular classes at high school, and with some modifications, he is making the honor roll. He has joined the choir this year and seems to enjoy the camaraderie of the group; he even thinks he might want to be a part of the vocal jazz group in the future. His teachers and fellow students know he has autism, but they are unaware of how far he has come.
How did he get to where he is today? It took a lot of love. He had a sitter who was willing to take him into her home and love him. He had a couple of teachers in elementary school who were willing to work with him in spite of the challenge he presented; one of them followed him into middle school, which made that transition easier. He has family who surround him with unconditional love. And loving is a word that describes the person he has become. He is a gentle, compassionate young man. He is a gentle giant. He is a joy in my life.