08/12/2014 05:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Autism in Our Family

"Are you right-handed or left-handed?"

"Stop, I need to look at the hours before we go in."

"Why don't kids like me, Mom?"

"You're joking! Right???"

"That's my chair."

"Which U.S. President died on this day at this age of ___________?"

"What do you mean I'm black and white, I'm wearing red and have blond hair?"

"Who's your favorite Harry Potter character?"

"What's 55 x 6?"

"If you could be any Red Sox who would it be? What do you mean you don't know the players' names?"

"Why are you special because you are an adult? I thought all people were created equal!"


These are questions I hear so many times a day, and have since the day my son started talking in words we understood. Each of these questions is a sample of his obsessions, life lessons, or misunderstandings of the world, which form his ideas and thoughts. Unlike the stereotypes of autism, he wants friends, wants relationships more than you and me. However, navigating through them brings out his biggest frustrations with us "typicals."

This boy is amazing. His brain is like a computer that never shuts off. He's always taking in information, spitting more out, and has shutdowns when it comes to social skills. He is his own puzzle that I know I will never quite fully understand.

His knowledge is great, and his emotions are greater. Since he was born, each day either feels like the best day of our lives, or the worst day. He's either the kindest, gentlest, easiest to please perfect child or a strong-willed, never understanding, talking back perceived brat. He has a hard time believing that I don't expect him to be perfect, but he needs to learn to show respect for others. He also feels like he has to change himself in order to have friends, and just doesn't understand why other kids won't change for him. These are things I have never had the right words to explain to him. Friendship is give and take; so why should he have to change more than others? It's a hard world out there -- one that I don't understand, and he understands even less.


He alone makes me a better mother than I thought I would ever have to be. Every point he makes, I see his side -- and I pray he understands that I'm ALWAYS on his team. I have had to work to earn his trust, and now that I finally have it, I understand what a gift it is.

These days, he saves his hugs for the moments that need them, and they are not a daily thing. The other day, as I cried in my chair about things I could not control, he made my day by coming out of nowhere and giving me the biggest hug of my life.

"What was that for?"

"Mom, you just looked like you needed a hug," he said. My heart triumphed and my tears of sorrow turned into joy.

"Thank you. You truly made my day. It's better now, all because of you."

This is autism in our family.

This piece is part of a series of essays on what autism looks like for different families. Courtney is widow, mom, teacher, writer, photographer, dreamer. She writes about her perfectly imperfect life at

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