This boy and I are connected. Mother and son. I am his person.
He holds me now mostly out in public. A hand in mine or on my shoulder, me leading him. Always touching me. And if he does pull his hand away for a second, I see a bit of panic in his eyes before he reaches out again.
At times, I feel I am his eyes and ears, as if he has a blindfold on and I’m telling him where to step and sit. Cooper and other individuals like him are living in a world that doesn’t make sense to them.
There is pressure in being someone’s person. Worry. Fear. Beauty. He’s nearly as tall as me now. We wear each other’s shoes and hoodies. I feel like I’m leading a man at times. I know how to calm him and talk him off the ledge, but what if someday I cannot? The worry is real as we venture toward teenagerhood.
Because the kindness that is afforded to toddlers and young children with autism isn’t so graciously given to teenagers and adults. Cooper doesn’t understand social norms or whispering or waiting. He sees no issue with walking down the middle of a hallway, parting people as he goes. Or sitting on an elevator. Or leaning across my lap in the vehicle to joyfully wave to the fast-food worker handing us chicken nuggets.
The world sees a big boy.
One with blond hair and his signature checkered Vans. He is tall. He is handsome.
He looks like every other tween. But if you observed him closely, you might notice how his fingers dance in the sunlight in front of his face. The constant flick of his wrist. The rubbing of his pointer finger and thumb, moving something imaginary in a ball. Constantly. Always moving. Always making sound. But I would never expect anyone to pick up on that.
Autism is my world. Not yours. I am reminded of that daily. I find myself wondering how far our connection will reach when he and I are older. What will it look like then?
I remind myself, though, what a gift I have been given. To belong to someone in such a way.
Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook.
Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.