Fifty Shades of Autism

Boy with Autism - The Shitastrophy

“Just as no two snowflakes are the same and everyone has a unique set of fingerprints there are shades of autism.” I tell my twelve year old son.

The older he gets the more aware he has become of others who hold the same diagnosis he does.

“Mom, this boy at tutoring is weird. He does stuff without asking the teachers. He just gets up and starts going through their things.”

I nod, and say little, knowing what is coming next. My eyes on the road.

“He has Autism like me. Do I act weird too?”

“Everyone’s Autism is different. Remember I explained it’s a spectrum? Think of it like a rainbow. Some people are on one side of the rainbow keeping their eyes out for the pot of gold while others are just starting to lift off from the cloud. In between there are all kinds of travelers.”

He’s quiet. He looks out the window of the car, processing what I said.

“Well, what about Teddy from school? He’s attacked kids and he has Autism. I don’t ever touch anyone else.”

“Yes, I know. His Autism has manifested itself with violent outbursts.”

I steal myself for the next probing question. I try to keep my answers short and factual, he has a way of cutting through all the bullshit so there’s no point in trying to serve any up. It’s one of my favorite things about him. The truth is his crutch.

“How do you know I have Autism? If my Autism is so different than all the kids I see maybe I don’t have it.”

I grip the wheel tighter, preparing myself for this very important conversation. My son is too smart to answer with anything but the truth. I long for the days when a true, but vague answer would buy me time.

“Remember Dr. Kartright?” Referencing the expert who had diagnosed him just two years earlier.


“Remember all those tests and questions she and you spent the better part of a day working through? Well that test is designed to identify Autism. The questions are very specific and based upon your answers, her observations, and the answers provided by Dad and I along with your school she is able to say with certainty that you fall on the Autism spectrum.”

The rain sprinkles on my windshield and the quiet in the car is interrupted from the wipers swishing back and forth, erasing the droplets that just fell. The sun has set and the darkness is enveloping us, the traffic lights are shining brighter in the evening sky. He is again quiet, watching the rain fall and as the reminders of it are swooshed off the glass.

“How did I catch Autism?” He asks.

“Well, you don’t catch it like the flu, you are born with it.” I say, grateful he comes to me with these questions instead of burying them deep.

“Why do I have Autism and no one else in our family has it?”

“Well, you know how every person is made up of chromosomes, a collection of recessive and dominant genes? Like Dad has black hair and your Aunt has blond? Well, it’s just the way the genes are aligned that make every person different, even if they have the same parents. It’s like how you love history and your sister doesn’t. It’s all those differences that make every one of us unique.”

He accepts my response.

Quietly we cross over the intersection, the rain hitting the car louder. My heart is full of ache for my son who is trying so hard to figure out where on the spectrum he falls. It’s a moving target and exponentially difficult to explain to a twelve year old boy who just wants to understand this world and where he fits in it.


If you liked this then maybe you will enjoy these other posts I’ve written about Autism:

30 Thoughts on Autism

Why We Chose Montessori


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  1. Becoming a mom is both the most emotional thing that ever happens to us, no? You’re doing a great job, mama. 🙂

  2. Nay says:

    Sadly we live in a world where having a label is the same as painting a target on your forehead. I am 48 years old and on the spectrum. I hide it well most of the time because back in the day it was even harder. My son is 25 and on the spectrum. He is brilliant and gifted, but finds human interaction difficult. He finds life a daily grind of trying to be accepted without painting the target of his Autism on his forehead. His father could never accept him and he is daily the butt of cruel teasing and bullying, he knows it when it happens but does not have the skills to defend himself. Even people he thinks understand often tease him. And it hurts A LOT! Yes he holds a job and is independent and self-supportive financially. It hurts when people tease him because he still can’t drive and because he “lives with his mom”. He feels embarrassed to tell people because he knows how the label changes their attitude towards him. I wish the world would just accept that there is no such a thing as normal. Most of us are somewhere on that rainbow. However I understand Autism is being diagnosed at rates never before seen. Maybe, by the time your son is an adult, autism will be the new “normal”.

    • So very well said – “most of us are somewhere on that rainbow”. I too pray by the time he is an adult it is the new normal, but I have my doubts. My heart breaks for you and your son, the pain others inflict upon ourselves and our children is unfathomable. However, I do have to say that more and more there are children who know someone, or are related to someone on the spectrum, and they often extend an olive branch to my son. It gives me hope.


  1. […] Autism. There is a 1 in 68 chance (CDC 2014) of having a child who falls on the rainbow somewhere. (I choose to see the spectrum as a rainbow of spectacular colors demonstrated in variances of one …). Surely this person has crossed paths with an autistic child, even if they didn’t know […]