You wear your shirt backwards. And if I were who I used to be, I’d make you switch it back to where it “should be.” Shirt designs are meant to be seen on the front. That’s where they were meant to be displayed by the person who made the tshirt and by everyone else who wears tshirts. But you wear your shirt backwards. Maybe it’s a sensory thing. Maybe it’s a personal choice. I know you can’t explain it in just quite the way it is inside your head and body. And that’s ok.
Before autism, I used to think it really mattered which way you put your shirt on. But heck, with the insane barrage of battles we’ve had to fight together, many of those lost, and still many won, most days I don’t even comment on the fact that the Spider-Man logo can only be seen as you walk away from me.
Speaking of, I realized that, lately, you’ve been doing a lot of walking away. But not for the reasons you used to. See, I am used to all the ways that I have had to monitor your safety due to your curiosity or lack of sense of danger in situations, or because you could wander off if I even took a second to engage in conversation with someone and take my eyes off you.
But these days, I am watching the back of your shirt, while you walk away from me because you are trying to make sense of what independence is. You are trying to figure this whole thing out that you seem to see everyone else do but you. It’s really hard for me to see you walking away trying to do it all on your own, because I’ve spent the better part of half of your life continually making sure that you were never too far and that I knew exactly how to keep you safe.
God had a sense of humor, because He knew I’d need something to smile at, as you got further into the distance, trying to do more things on your own. I see you trying to show me that you can walk the dog, cross the street, pour milk, and get dressed without help.
And I understand your desire, but be patient with me.
This is a whole new world where you are understanding so much more about the fact that, you in particular, among those around you, have needed more help than others to do things in your life.
You are trying to change that and push yourself to meet a standard you feel you should. You’ve got something to prove to me, and to yourself, I think. But know when you look back, just to check how far you’ve gotten on your own, I won’t be so far off that you can’t see my smiling face behind you, there just in case. And while I wait, I’ll ponder, is that backward shirt just fine after all, like so many other things we thought we “had to change” as well.
Cause, I also realized lately, that autism has repeatedly forced us to reconsider every “should be” that I have pretty much ever just assumed “had to be,” due to some unspoken rule — a rule that one just does not challenge… Who even makes these rules…I wonder. These rules that we hold so tightly to – just follow the rules and everything will be alright…but will it? Cause, I have learned differently. The social rule followers rarely get to tap into the depth of a relationship where who someone really is, really is allowed.
We have all learned to present ourselves a certain way so that others will respond a certain way towards us. But who are we really, underneath all that. Who are we pretending to be?
My son’s autism constantly begs the question- but why are those rules necessary… And I challenge you to actually consider, what rules have you been following that aren’t really necessary? I really think the only social rule I’ve seen trump all the others is —be kind… Kindness speaks louder than words. Kindness floods another soul and brings it to life with a smile or with an outstretched hand to hold.
Kindness looks like laughing at a shared silly moment. Like allowing someone to move freely, when everyone else should be sitting still. Like sitting next to someone who is overwhelmed without any pressure to have to get through it sooner than they are able to. Not expecting words, when they are out of reach somehow. Kindness looks like not minding that someone likes to wear their shirt backwards. If the world had a lot more kindness, we’d all be better off. Maybe, if you see my son with his shirt on backwards, kindness for you will look like thinking twice before you choose to point out that things “shouldn’t” be that way. Cause just maybe, things are more beautiful when we give individuals the freedom to color a little outside of the “normal” lines – those lines we used to think were set in stone, or at least that’s the way I used to think, before I met the boy who liked to wear his shirts backwards.