Christa Dahlstrom lives in Oakland, California with her husband Chris and her son, Reuben (or “Ben”). Shortly after Ben was diagnosed with ASD and hyperlexia at age 3, Christa created a blog called “Hyperlexicon,” where she publishes reflections on raising an extraordinary child. In her professional life, Christa is a consultant in the field of corporate training and learning design.
I didn’t get to talk with many of you at the birthday party today. You may remember me as the one who was hovering around my son, nervously following him from room to room while everyone enjoyed the food, activities and conversation.
If you wondered why my son wasn’t interacting much with the other fifteen kids or doing the art projects or playing the games, it’s not because he doesn’t like people or that he’s a bad kid. He’s actually pretty charming and funny if you can get to know him in a lower-decibel environment.
I noticed a few of you gave us a strange look when he was walking around talking to himself rather than hitting the piñata, but perhaps it would impress you to know that at the time he was reciting an entire book from memory.
To those of you who were in the room any of the three times when my son threw a screaming tantrum and tore apart the train tracks: I’m sorry if it was unnerving. He’s really a very easygoing kid at home…as long as no one touches his trains.
And to those of you who recognized us from the Montessori School and asked why you haven’t seen us there lately: I think that when I started talking about special education services and early intervention programs and autism the look on your face may have said, “too much information.”
Maybe “echolalia” and “IEP” aren’t terms that everyone else uses on a daily basis. Perhaps I should have just asked you more about your ski trip.
And if you saw me come out of the bathroom and my eyes were a little red, it’s just because I had to unleash a little of the emotion and anxiety that I was hiding behind what I hope otherwise came off as a polite and confident smile.
You see, I have this paranoid feeling that there’s this club that you all belong to: The Parents of Normal Kids Club. And I’m not a member.
I don’t know how to hang out at these parties and look relaxed like you do, just chatting and drinking coffee. It’s because I’m nervous that at any moment my son might do something that you or your child will find odd or scary or upsetting.
What I’m really doing when I hover so close to him is protecting him from the judgments I fear you’re making.
I stare at this vast chasm between the safe, accepting environment we’ve created for my son among our immediate family and your world. And I wonder how we’ll help him across.
So when my son told me, nearing the end of his patience while waiting for the birthday cupcakes, “I want it to be over,” I said quietly, so only he could hear, “I do too, buddy. I do too.”