She has trouble answering why questions. She has difficulty progressing from the what to the why, and the what tends to become the why. She's hungry.Why? Because she's hungry. She wants to go downstairs. Why? Because she wants to go downstairs.
She has trouble connecting to abstract concepts. Teaching her to read became a matter of memorizing words. Thank goodness she has a razor sharp memory, because, to this day, she still can't read a new word with ease. She has extreme difficulty sounding out a word. But, if you tell her what the word is, she remembers it, and she remembers what it means.
She has no friends. She's unable to reach out to other children in her class, to engage them, to have a conversation with them.
But here's how autism has manifested itself in my daughter: she doesn't get angry. It took me almost seven years to realize this. Neither I or my wife can remember one single timex where Natalie was angry at someone.
She's been frustrated, to be sure. She's been discombobulated, confused, panicked, all of these things.
She's been sad at times, when we've been angry with her. She's been afraid sometimes, at night, in the dark.
But she's never. Ever. Been angry. Not once. It's an emotion that simply doesn't exist inside her.
Here's how else autism has manifested itself in Natalie: she is consistently happy. She is consistently good natured. She loves to connect with her family, in her own way. She loves to hug and be hugged. She loves to simply hang out with us, while she reads a book. She loves to be read to. She loves to be kissed. She loves to be tickled. She loves to be happy.
I have a daughter who is autistic, and I have a daughter who seems forever happy. More to the point, it seems to be that her eternal happiness is directly linked to her autism. Maybe that will change over time, but it hasn't done that yet. Not for the last seven years. I have no reason to expect that her mood will one day suddenly change.
I'm having a difficult time reconciling this. Why am I so upset about her autism, when she isn't all the concerned about it? Why are my expectations of how she should interact with others coloring my perception of her, especially when she is such a happy person?
More to the point, if I could wave a wand and take her autism away from her, and turn her into a normal kid, but one who is sometimes sad, sometimes angry, sometimes sullen, would I do it? Of course I would. I wouldn't hesitate.
But does that make it right? Why is it that I have decided that her ability to process some types of information is more important than her consistent happiness? Why is is that my desire to see her be more like other kids her age trumps her own desire to be content in her own way?
She is growing up. She is reading. She is writing. She is doing math. She is functioning like a normal kid, except she can't hold deep conversations and she can't "play" with other kids. But she is intensely happy. And yet, I would rather change that. I would rather take away her permanent happiness, in order to take away the pain that sits in my soul.
So is the problem with Natalie, or is the problem with me?