I don’t remember the day I found out my nephew was diagnosed with autism. I remember they day I found out I had high cholesterol, because in the back of my mind the fear was already set that this meant my life would spiral into a land of tofu and mock chicken.
But I don’t remember the day my nephew was diagnosed with autism. Perhaps because I am a terrible aunt. Or perhaps because I didn’t really understand what it meant to be autistic.
I do however, remember the first time I realized autism made my nephew different. see, for a long time I thought he was babied to a point of no return. Being the first grand and great grandchild it made sense he was allowed to eat messy food in places us mere first generationers would have never been thought to go. And to jump on beds we only wished to touch with bare feet. But it boiled my blood to watch my family spoon feed a three-year-old through tangible and mental means.
Then there was this day that changed my mind.
My sister and I brought my nephew to our childhood neighborhood hay ride during christmas time. As most of these functions go, we waited in an astronomical line for a not so spectacular ride. As our time slowly approached and the hay ride began to fill, it was clear we were not going to make this go around.
Being the first kid to not enter a ride of any sort is a tough pill to swallow, though for my nephew it seemed different. As the disappointment dust settled for the other four and five-year-olds his only grew stronger.
“The train is NEVER going to come back.”
“We will get on the next one.”
“It will never come back.”
I looked at my sister as she began to ration with my nephew.
“THE TRAIN IS NEVER COMING BACK.”
Most children were upset that they did not make the previous ride, but he was not. His concern lay in the thought that this ride would never return.
The words quietly repeating as we stood still. A change in pitch, a change in fear, he knew all too well in his mind that train was never coming back. And though I knew all too well that was not correct, he continued to let the thought consume him.
As I looked around it became clear that it was consuming others as well. Not because grown adults were now in fear that a trailer hitched to a 2000 truck would never return, but in their eyes they could not understand why this kid didn’t get it. Why their children, who look exactly the same on the outside as my nephew, seemed to have come to terms with the situation and this little blonde headed boy just wasn’t.
I watched as they shot condescending looks in my sisters direction. And I watched as my sister who once went screaming down the street after her puppy pug which had escaped her grasp calmly comforted her child without a thought of anything else.
It was the first time I realized my nephew was autistic and the first time I was confronted with my own viewpoints head on. I looked at those parents and realized just how I had come across all these years before. Not understanding, and not caring to try. It was the first time I realized just what a blessing this skinny, toe-headed boy who thought V-necks were broken shirts was to our lives. It was the first time I truly understood what unconditional love felt like.
I boarded the hay ride with tears in my eyes, and refrained from singing carols along with the rest of the passengers, as Brayden said he didn’t enjoy the noise. And that was okay.