I remember the first time that I really and truly knew that Science Kid was different from others. He was 1 year old and had done something adorable and funny. His big round blue eyes shone with toddler mischief and his chubby cheeks were flushed with excitement. I laughed and he immediately fell to pieces crying. We were in a playgroup and it broke my friends’ hearts to see him cry when they just wanted to share joy with him.
Science Kid has autism and one of his symptoms is a sensitivity to noise. This sensitivity is responsible for laughter being painful to him as a toddler. It makes certain public outings difficult as background noise bothers him. His brain processes sound differently than the “neurotypical” brain and noise is painful and overwhelming, even causing him anxiety.
As a parent, I desperately want my little boy to be like others. There were times for me that were hard to be quirky. Eventually, things got easier and I embraced being unique. As a mother, I yearned to save my child from feeling pain. Unfortunately, that’s pretty impossible.
Science Kid started several therapies shortly after turning 2 to address his delays due to his autism (speech therapy, occupational therapy, and applied behavioral analysis). When he was diagnosed in 2009, even strangers that met Science Kid knew he was different. As he stayed in the therapies, he started to catch up to his peers and blend in. The first thing people say after meeting him is that they would never guess he has autism.
This is wonderful. It is the goal I set out for in 2009 after all.
Except, there is a difference between blending in and actually being like everyone else.
Science Kid knows now that laughter is a positive thing and it is the way people express joy. Knowing that does not mean that his brain does not process laughter as a harmful noise, causing his body to go into the fight or flight response. My child, who has taught me more about life than I could ever hope to teach him, simply ignores this initial impulse. Things that are easy and enjoyable for everyone else take an awful lot of self-control and are anxiety provoking for him.
Science Kid recently started opening up about how difficult it is for him to ride the school bus. He loves the school bus and loves the time with his friends, but it is just too LOUD. He asked me to help him ride the school bus and enjoy it more. This is a common issue for individuals with autism and what often helps are noise reducing headphones, such as you would wear on a shooting range. They are big and they will make Science Kid stand out. Most children do not know he has autism, and the thought of putting giant headphones on my child and alerting others that he is different broke my heart.
Science Kid knows he is different and he likes who he is. He saw his new blue headphones and had a giant smile as he put them on and they blocked out the noises that hurt his ears. He was happy as his brain was released from the constant barrage of overwhelming noise. Science Kid is pretty amazing and knows at age 6 what took me 30 years to figure out: it is okay to be different. He embraces his quirkiness unabashedly, and proves yet again that he is my hero.