The conflict within

Tulika Prasad


I stood in the middle of my son’s classroom watching all his classmates confident and excited, dressed as their favorite people from history. There were scientists, Presidents, baseball players, civil rights activists and many more. They waited at their seats until one of the parents “activated” them for them to start their speech. I then looked at my son - sitting in the farthest corner of the room, completely oblivious of what was happening around him, of why he was doing what he was doing, trying to take off his shirt and his wire frame “glasses,” constantly asking for his straw that he could stimm on. He was dressed as Steve Jobs. I dressed him that not because I thought he was my son’s favorite person from history but because the costume would be least restrictive for him, but the turtleneck seemed to bother him, and he apparently hated the glasses even without the lenses. He was unhappy and uncomfortable. I watched his aid struggle to keep him there while she prompted Vedant to play the audio slide I had prepared for his “speech.”

My heart broke seeing him that way - so different, so detached, so ...developmentally delayed. Although I try not to compare him with other kids, I don’t always succeed. Today was one of those days when I failed, again. Watching the other students do so much more than my son made me crave for something more for him. It frustrated me that he could not talk or understand. I felt defeated. In spite of my constant attempt to mainstream him, I was still at the starting line. I’ve always pushed for more inclusion and today made me doubt my rationale for it. I felt like all that I was trying to do was please myself. My son didn’t care if he was in that classroom that day. In fact, he would have preferred not be in that uncomfortable shirt and in a noisy, crowded room. He would be happy in his own special needs classroom getting some sensory break, doing his own thing.

This is definitely not the first time I’ve noticed my son’s challenges. It will not be the last. But somehow, pitched next to his classmates-- kids he should have been like--the contrast seemed glaring. It hurt my eyes. It pained my heart. His meltdowns don’t bother me so much anymore. That he cannot talk does not bring me to tears every day. Sometimes it’s the little things that bring out those big buried emotions that you’ve so neatly tucked away. Today was that little thing.

I should have been proud of him for sitting in that room for over twenty minutes; for diligently pushing the only exposed “→” button on his laptop to play his slide; for not having a meltdown in that crammed, noisy room; for not trying to flee from all the sensory overload; for playing and replaying his slides (although his aid did most of it) every time a parent visited his seat even though he had no clue why he needed to do the same thing over and over again; for quietly sitting for pictures that a very nice parent decided to take of him; for answering with a fuzzy “tee ja” (Steve Jobs) when asked “Who are you today?” I should have been so proud of him for doing all this for me. But here I was, complaining and comparing!

Autism can be such a conflicting bundle of emotions! One day you are delighted that he actually looked in the eye when someone tried talking to him and the other day you’re upset because you want him to act like a neurotypical 9-year old. While I sort through my emotions and figure out what I want from my son, I’ll let my son decide what he wants from his life and I will try to be happy for what he is, not upset about what he is not. Still, some days, I am going to fall short and be that mom who wants more out of him, let my guards down and cry and be disappointed and discouraged...because autism.


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