Try to imagine every possible shade of purple. Lilac, periwinkle, eggplant, indigo, plum, heliotrope, lavender, orchid, mauve. Imagine every hue in the Crayola box and ones you’ve never seen.
In my mind autism is the color purple, and every person is a different shade. Henry is royal purple. His friend at school is violet. My friend at church is fuchsia. This spectrum is precisely what makes autism difficult to define, understand, and diagnose, but just like the Crayola box, it is also what makes autism breathtakingly beautiful.
Much of what makes Henry unique, quirky, and hilarious is also what makes him autistic. His enthusiastic passion for trains and his budding fascination with NBC Nightly News. His insistence on listening to the same songs over and over again. His extraordinary memory and spontaneous recall of events. His forthright conversations and unabashed honesty. These are all part of his unique shade.
Knowing Henry is autistic makes the past more beautiful, too. We now view every adorable toddler moment, from the flat-out funny to the oddly confounding, through the “a-ha!” goggles of autism.
How he tugged out my ponytail and took off my glasses every single time … because that’s not what Mommy was supposed to look like.
How he pulled a different shirt from my dresser and thrust it toward me … because what I was wearing wasn’t soft enough for cuddling.
How he could repeat words all day long and even spell some of them … but couldn’t form a sentence.
How he loved Elmo … but rejected the costume in horror when Keith brought it home for Halloween.
How he looked in my eyes every day, how his smile lit up his whole face … but he never asked me to play.
The realizations bring me peace. The awareness falls softly, settling on my tired shoulders, relaxing the tension of all the questions knotted there. The confusion is gone, and though life will always bring us new questions, we meet them with knowledge and grace.
I could fill pages with all I’ve learned about this disorder, yet what I think I know about autism is often turned upside down. The infamous struggle with eye contact, for example, seems nonexistent as Henry touches my face, looks deeply into my eyes, and laughs at our shared joke.
Autism is a range of abilities and disabilities, a spectrum of wonder. Each shade is luminescent, although I think I have a favorite. It’s royal purple.