As we continue to acknowledge, uplift, and encourage autistic people, I would like to take a moment to remind you to listen to autistic people — not just parents of autistic children. Hear their voices and share their stories, because although I am a mother to an autistic son, I am a neurotypical person. I cannot speak for the community, I can only stand with them and help to amplify their voices.
Today, in honor of helping to amplify the voices of autistic people, I decided to interview my teenage son, King. I’m constantly being asked questions about him and his journey, and some of the questions I’m asked, I simply cannot answer because I am not autistic myself. So instead of sharing what I think he thinks, I decided to just ask him directly.
All three of my children are still doing remote learning from home, but King is finished with classes for the day. He has completed his chores, and we are sitting on my bed. Well, I am sitting, and he is laying across the foot of my bed, his long dreads hanging over the side. I smile at him; he’s getting so big. It feels as though he was just a toddler, still searching for his words, and now he’s a TEENAGER!
We both laugh. I’m not sure when or why we started greeting each other like this, but this greeting, no matter how simple, has become our thing. Although it’s a simple two-word greeting, and he is now able to vocalize much more, there is something about that, “Hey, Mommy,” that just melts my heart. Probably because it took so long for me to hear those words, and even longer for them to be applied to me. His acknowledging me as Mommy will never get old. Anyway, back to the interview.
Your hair is getting long. Do you like your long hair? I love it. It makes me feel secure.
How? I don’t know, I just feel… safe. And I look cool.
How old are you? Thirteen.
What does it feel like to be a teenager? It feels like I’ve grown up.
What’s your favorite food? Either pizza or burgers. I’m a foodie, I like good food.
What are some of your favorite places to visit in Jacksonville? James Weldon Johnson Park because there is always fun stuff going on. The Jacksonville Zoo because I like animals. The MOSH museum because they have cool stuff in there.
Do you know what autism is? I see it as a different way of functioning in life.
Do you think you function differently from others? Yes, like, I’m sensitive to loud noises, and it’s hard to talk to people.
Do you feel different from everyone else? No, not really.
What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t know.
What are you interested in? Gaming and traveling.
So, is gaming an area you would be interested in exploring as a career, or is gaming just a hobby? Umm, maybe both.
What about traveling? Would you be interested in traveling as a career or just a hobby? I feel like traveling is my life purpose… maybe.
Do you have a best friend? Yes.
Who’s your best friend? Mommy.
Would you like other best friends? Yes, more people my age.
What kind of things would you like to do with friends your age? Play games, play sports, just, umm, hang out.
Do you have trouble making friends your age? Yes, because I’m mostly silent. I’m just nervous to talk to people, but if people talk to me, I will talk to them.
Do you wish you knew more autistic people? Yes, because I feel like they will understand me.
Do you remember when you got your diagnosis? How do you feel about your diagnosis? No, but I’m okay with it.
Would you rather be referred to as an autistic person or a person with autism? Umm, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an autistic person, but it doesn’t really matter right now, it might change in the future.
Why might it change in the future? Umm… I don’t really know. I don’t know how to explain it.
Do you think people pity you because you are autistic? If so, how does that make you feel? No.
Would you rather not have autism? I would rather have autism because it makes me feel kind of special. It feels like I was given a special power.
His alarm goes off on his tablet, and he looks at me.
Can we be finished? I want to watch Ninja Turtles.
Yes, we can be finished. Thank you, King.
He disappears into his room.
This is my son, King. These are his thoughts and feelings. This is not what I think he thinks or how I think he feels. If you are someone looking to educate yourself on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I can not say it enough, include autistic voices in your search.