An Open Letter to My Autistic Son

Editor’s Note: I received the following letter from a friend who wanted a forum to tell his struggles dealing with his son’s autism.
I don’t know where to go from here.
I know, I know. I’m your father. Along with your mother, we are supposed to have it all planned out. I always thought my boy would be a star athlete, a star student, and a star citizen. I basically wanted everything that was best for you.
You were diagnosed with autism at age two, and for years now, I feel like I have been stranded in the ocean, trying to swim my way out of these depths in my head. I am still fighting for what to do every day. Your mom doesn’t know, but I would find myself trying to comprehend why this happened, how this happened, and why it happened to you. I always asked myself what went wrong. I would think of you never becoming a Ph.D. candidate, the star of the basketball team, the mathlete. I would wonder about girlfriends, jobs and extracurricular accomplishments you’d miss out on. I would wonder what the future always holds for you.
But you know what? This afternoon, as I’m writing this, do you know what I’m starting to think now? Screw all that noise in my head.
All this time, I have seen you as a typical child, but in so many ways, you are not. You are BETTER than that. You are sweet and kind, and bright. You have your own special way of figuring out every problem-solving issue you’re given. You communicate so well with me, your mom, and others. And, yes, you are autistic. You are one-of-a-kind, so why am I always wondering about potential futures for you that don’t even recognize that fact?
At the end of the day, of course, your future is as-of-yet unknown. But based on the little boy who I know is really in there, I’m starting to think it’s still going to be recognizable as the life of a happy, independent, fulfilled adult. Because, despite this diagnosis, I will argue to my dying day that you are intelligent; that you are normal; that you are no different from any other child with whom I could have been gifted, a few personality quirks aside.
So beginning now, all these years after the fact, my hope is that you’ll be treated as a fully functioning equal to every other crumb-strewn, volatile, unreasonable, emotional, reactive, explosive, awkward, bad-tempered child out there. My hope is that you see me not only as your father but as a best friend as well. My hope is that you can forgive me for not seeing this sooner and that you can understand the battles that I have had with myself all these years.
Son, your autism is not preventing you from greatness, or success, or normalcy. I anticipate that this fact will remain. You are silly and loving, and clever; you are stubborn, and resilient, and determined. You are capable. You have bright things in your future.
We got this, and we’ll figure out how to move forward together.


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Sean Naylor

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