Shades of Gray and the Autism Spectrum

My son thinks about what is happening now. Right in this moment.
02/10/2017 06:38 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2017

My son Grayson does not see in gray. Ironic since the word is literally in his name. In fact, we typically call him “Gray.”

But, his entire world is black or white. Happy or sad. Hot or cold. Up or down. Yes or no.

The idea that something can exist in the middle does not make sense to him. The thought that a person can feel more than one emotion at a time is confusing. The concept of the distant future is very unfamiliar for him.

My son thinks about what is happening now. Right in this moment. The scenery. The sounds. The people. The feelings. The weather. He lives 100 percent in each moment, soaking up every last detail.

He is like a sponge that way. As he exists inside a particular moment he is reverting all of it to memory. Putting every piece of that moment into carefully organized files in his brain. This is exactly how he will remember this moment. And this is exactly how he will need this moment to be in the future.

Re-living the same experience in a new way is very difficult for Grayson. He cannot escape his memory of the moment. He struggles to imagine things in new and different ways. This is not a choice that he makes, this is just how his brain works.

Black. White. Up. Down. Yes. No. Nothing more and nothing less. And, nothing in between. The beach, a movie, play dates, dinning out, the zoo. Every experience, big or small, becomes a memory. And the memory becomes a script.

Sometimes we fail to understand the true depths of the intricate way that his brain is organized. And time and time again we are blown away. Blown away by the power of his beautiful brain. Amazed at his ability to recall even the most obscure of details.

This is both a blessing and a curse.

I love the detailed memories that fill his brain. I love that he is sentimental. I love the way he remembers people and places that we do not see as often as we would like. I love the way joy washes over him as he remembers something truly blissful. His eyes light up as he spins around and takes in the scenery. Remembering. Filling in the holes. Recreating the moment just as he has stored it away in his brain.

But sometimes those memories create both obstacles. Because as you and I know, moments very rarely go the exact same way the second time.

We often explain to our son that we can experience the same thing in different ways. This seems like such a simple concept to me. But, this concept is far from simple to our son. There is no gray.

Did you know that the color gray is the color of compromise? In that sense, there is no surprise that my child cannot see the color gray.

Compromise and autism are opposing methodologies. Autism is rigid and unrelenting. It takes what it wants, when it wants it. Compromise requires registering the emotional and logical existence of something or someone else. A pretty difficult concept for someone who sees the world one way. His way.

Emotions are hard. Logic is hard. Compromise is hard. So many things that seem so easy are so hard along the autism spectrum.

My son Grayson is not gray. Not in any sense of the word. In so many moments he is unrelenting and uncompromising. He is rigid and holds firm to his needs. He sees nothing wrong with his polar view of the world. Why? Because he does not know any other way. He doesn’t know that the middle exists.

I live in the  middle. Me and my typical brain live in the typical middle. Willing my beautiful boy to join me. And maybe he never will. So I have learned to join him from time to time. To let go of the middle so that I can be closer to my son.

And I can only hope that one day he will let go of his polar end to be closer to me. To friends. To family. To a life that is so much more thank black and white.

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