While talking to my mom on the phone the other day, I showed her how to do a search on trulia.com for houses. So we sat for at least 30 minutes, separated by 1,000 miles, each looking at the same thing on our computer screens. It was fun to show her the houses I liked and to hear her excitement about our pending move travel through the phone. In all honesty I have been looking at houses ever since we put our house on the market back in September, and since we got the offer a few weeks ago, almost daily.
Looking at the houses on a satellite image I started to wonder about the neighbors we will eventually have. Because right now, in my little neighborhood, I have nice neighbors. We live in a “twin home” and the family we are connected to, whose teenager happens to share a wall with the the Roc’s bedroom, have been nothing but nice. I apologize with regularity for the noise and the tantrums when we are having a bad week, and she always, always says “don’t worry about it, we understand,” and I am grateful. Both of her children say they cannot hear us, or that “it’s okay,” when they answer the phone instead of their mother. On our other side, the neighbors are wonderful grandparents, the wife got teary eyed when I first told her about the Roc’s diagnosis 3 years ago. She goes out of her way to talk to the Roc, and always invites him to swim with her grandchildren when they are out in the blow up pool during the summer. We have other nice neighbors on the street as well, who always say hi to the Roc, and always notice the changes and progress he has made. I have been friends with a mom of 3 typi kids since she moved in, and she always invites the Roc to play when we are outside and to her son’s birthday parties. I have laughed and cried with some of my neighbors.
I also have had my share of interesting and gut wrenching conversations about the Roc in the last 3 years. From, “Have you tried putting him in the corner, having him stand with his nose pressed up against wall and his arms out?” or “what about a sticker chart, that works for us,” and “oh my kid gets upset too, that’s just a kid thing!” when the Roc was going through a terrible behavior phase. Or, “Oh! Autism, so he’s going to be an engineer or a scientist, they are all geniuses right?” and “Oh yeah, I saw Rainman once, like that?” To “My wife knew there was something wrong with him when he was a baby, so we aren’t surprised,” when hearing the diagnosis news for the first time. Many of my neighbors have seen the Roc since he was a baby, and they have seen the good, the progress, the language that emerged and the gross motor skills we worked hard on outside. They have also witnessed the tantrums, either in person, through the walls, or through our open windows. They have seen me cry and rejoice, heard me yell and laugh, and have their own ideas of autism is based off what they have seen at our home.
So I have begun thinking about what our new neighbors will be like, what their impression of our family might be, and how I will have an opportunity to shape strangers ideas about autism, my family, and my son. Maybe they know someone with autism, but maybe they don’t. The numbers don’t lie, but unless you actually know someone either with autism or who has a child with autism, most people aren’t likely to pay attention to this fast growing developmental disorder. The Roc may just be their 1 in 110, or 1 in 70 boys, or whatever statistic is the most touted at the time. I know that the Roc is likely the 1 in 110 for most of my old high school friends back home. When I ask them if they know anyone with a child with autism in their area, no one does, that will change when we move, but it again reminds me how isolating autism can be. I don’t want it to be that way for us, but I know that we will have to work at it.
So I have been thinking about the best way to tell the new neighbors. What do I want them to know first about the Roc? If we should “out” the Roc right away or if maybe it doesn’t have to be the very first thing they hear about him. I don’t think it does. I want the Roc to be seen for all of him, not just the fact that he has autism. Also, we are in a different place in our journey now, I think we have an opportunity to impact our new neighbors in a different way. The neighbors we have now have known us from the beginning of our journey, some have cried with me, some have said they are “sorry for me,” and some have just been a witness to the more difficult struggles.
Things are different now, I am more at ease and centered, and I know that I don’t want or deserve pity. My boy is smart, funny, kind, gorgeous beyond measure, artistic and creative. He wants friends, he wants to go to parties, he wants to have fun and be a kid just like any other. He has certain challenges and road blocks to overcome, and GC and I will do anything to help him along the way, including giving thought to how to approach our new neighbors when the time comes.
Let’s just hope they are ready to receive.