The diagnosis of Autism assumed many things my son may not ever be able to do. I felt such a loss when that word was first spoken to me of what the disorder may take away from Ryan emotionally and socially. However, one thing my son has always done is look at me and “speak” to me on another level. As if he’s always tried to tell me, for a long time without words, he would be okay. And one thing I know: he is okay and handling things better than I ever foresaw. Turns out what is perceived as social deficits in this disorder are actually positives in the minefield of at least one frightening area that I have been fearing for years: adolescence.
As Ryan is now a teenager, and I see his friends delving into that murky pool of puberty, I feel more confident about how autism will actually help him navigate the maze. A few of the multitudes of issues teens juggle with: dating, drugs, peer acceptance, popularity and social media, are for now, working well for him with his traits on the spectrum.
The two teenage aliments, in my mind, that can be taken quickly off the table for Ryan are dating and drugs. I’m pretty confident drugs won’t be an issue for Ryan for a long time. I can barely get him to eat a different type of potato chip, so having someone offer him drugs is almost laughable. He will not ingest anything foreign without complete nuclear force. The other I’m quick to dismiss is the opposite sex. Not that he won’t experience the desire to take a girl out someday, but right now he isn’t panting around after the girls. Don’t’ get me wrong, he doesn’t hesitate to turn his head at a pretty girl, but the issue of impressing a girl is thankfully, currently off his radar.
Possibly the biggest teenage gift bestowed upon Ryan is he doesn’t care about who is popular or if he fits in. He simply knows who his friends are and that’s enough. Ryan is not self-conscious of his looks or his clothes. What a gift to be innocent of the perception others may have of you, at any age, but especially at this critical time in emotional development. Ryan does know when someone may be mad at him, but he doesn’t worry too long about it. Where most teenagers would fret for days that a peer was mad and turning people against them.
Not being aware of what others think is also a blessing as he has no interest in social media. He has been the subject of many filtered Snapchats with his sister, but he doesn’t have the burning desire most teenagers do to get their own Twitter or Instagram accounts. While I’m happy to not police him on multiple sites, as I do his sister, I wonder, by not being on social media, is he missing out on his peer’s interactions? This I don’t know, and am okay being grey with for now. I like that he is not being obsessed with how many likes or views, or re-tweets his post received. In a society so dependent on pairing social media to self worth, I’m truly glad he isn’t interested.
Ryan’s ‘devil may care’ attitude about his actions is most apparent in his own form of “stimming”. Ryan scripts or what we call ‘movie talks’ incessantly. When it’s not driving me crazy, and I can appreciate his art, I realize he is quite good at it. He can throw a line from a show at the most appropriate time you don’t even realize he’s quoting a TV show. Case in point: arriving at a store a few weeks ago, a lady walks out carrying a small dog. Ryan promptly and quite loudly, points to the sign on the door “Did you miss the sig? No dogs allowed”. Then he giggles incessantly. The lady was not pleased, but I was, a little. I knew it was from a TV show (“Uncle Grandpa”) but she didn’t. I’m sure she thought he was being a typical, rude teenager. And I liked that thought for a moment too; the typical part anyway. The bottom line is, I’m glad he has no concept that people may look at him when he scripts. I’m glad he’s found a way to bring the outside world into his. If you could see how much joy it brings him, acting out a scene in what I am sure is full HD quality in his mind, you would smile too.
As much as I want him to “fit in” to society, I also love his vigor for saying what is in his head–albeit maybe forty times in row. I adore the fact he has no desire to fit in or be cool and because of that he naturally is cool. Kids are attracted to him because he has a stand-off Arthur Fonzarelli-ness about him–his collar up and all.
Being diagnosed with autism may have foreseen some social issues for Ryan, but as far as I can tell, he’s better off not having some typical teenager feelings, at least during puberty. I think a lot of the worrying I did was for not, he seems to have it all in check and isn’t sweating it. I wish more teenagers could feel the way he seems to: just be who you are and don’t fret about what people think. If more teenagers felt the overwhelming need to act out the dance scene from “Puss and Boots”, while walking the isles at Costco, we all might smile a little more.