Statistics. Numbers. Nicely, neatly fit in a box. 1 in 88. The number of children who are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I see this number plastered on billboards and posted on my Facebook news feed. It screams at me from the TV, radio and even the intermittent commercial on Pandora.
1 in 88.
My son has dark brown hair that is thick and soft to the touch. His eyes are the same shade of hazel as his aunt’s, though they are not related by blood. He has long, skinny legs and long, skinny arms. At 9 years old, he still has to wear pants that cinch in the waist because he is skinny from head to toe. He carries the flat backside that is a genetically sound component of his grandpa’s side of the family. He looks like his uncle Joe, identical to him really. He has mannerisms that match his favorite cousin, though they see each other only once a year. He wears glasses that have shaped his face since he was 6 months old. He wants contacts but I can’t seem to imagine him without those adorable glasses. He makes this face when he’s being sarcastic or trying to prove a point. It’s so distinct and so him. I have to look away now whenever he makes “the face” or I will laugh.
My son loves Minecraft. He loves Pokemon. He loves, Loves, LOVES Legos. Strike up a conversation with him about any of these topics and he’ll talk your ear off for hours. He builds the most amazing creations out of Legos but gets upset because they are never quite right. His Minecraft world would blow your mind. His libraries have books, hundreds of them, with quiet spaces built in for reading. He is always adding to his world and changing what he’s already done. Again, the world is never quite right. There is always room for improvement. He bonds with his brother over Pokemon. I get lost in the discussions they have about the powers of each character and who is the best and why. It’s an amazing force that brings them together in a way I never thought possible.
My son gets lost in books. He spent many years of his early schooling where his eyes did not work together. Reading was incredibly difficult for him. We sought out the proper help and implemented some strategies at home and at school. Now he reads at a 5th or 6th grade level in only the 3rd grade. He loves comic books of any variety. He as read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series completely through more times than I can count. He has a photographic memory and can quote from any book that he has ever read. I know I can quiz him on any book that he has read and if he doesn’t know the answers then I know he didn’t actually read the book. He is the only kid I know who gets in trouble at school for sneaking off to read his book.
My son is a friend. He has a couple of friends that he has held onto tightly since kindergarten. They play together daily and talk about the things that 3rd grade boys talk about. He has birthday parties that other children attend and he attends birthday parties with other children. He loves to have his friends over to play whenever possible.
My son gives the most amazing hugs. Ocean wave hugs he calls them. He wraps his arms around you tight and squeezes while snuggling his head into the curve of your neck. They last for mere moments but their effects are with you for hours. He still likes to snuggle on the couch during popcorn and movie night. He likes to be tucked in and can’t fall asleep until he has a goodnight kiss.
According to the professionals and the insurance company, my son is 1 in 88.
To me, my son is Eli. He happens to have Asperger’s. Sometimes that diagnosis brings him anxiety and some social awkwardness. Always my son is the amazing child I have already described and so much more. He makes my eyes smile and my heart glow. He is not a number. He is not a list of criteria. He is a child. He is Eli. He is my son.