By Laura Licata Sullivan, Special Guest Blogger
I don't know if he's been hearing it in school this year, but since September, my teenage son with autism has been asking for me to "shave his mustache." In the recent past, he's obsessed on this notion several times a day, and I have caught him a few times looking for the shaving cream. I have hidden all the razors and scissors since he's already taken them to his hair and eyebrows, and I've been terrified he would hurt himself in a bad way.
Yes, he is 14, but I was hoping to wait at least another year to go down this road. He's been doing really well with the other obvious changes taking place but I've truthfully had many mixed emotions with this. Specifically, I am a female trying to educate a maturing male with a severe developmental disability on appropriate male behaviors and needs. I have become very grateful for those "family-style" restrooms that are popping up here and there, but there are not enough of them in existence, so going out in public is still a real challenge. All of the sudden maturity occurring in my son's body has caused me to re-examine some of my previous held beliefs and notions about adulthood.
And with our booming population of young adults with autism, the world at large is going to have to change its thought patterns too. For a mature looking person on the outside, may, in fact, see the world very differently from a person of similar age because of their makeup on the inside.
So, what makes a man anyway? It cannot just be body hair and a deep voice. In the world as we know it, a real man is responsible for himself and potentially any others that may come into his life. He can hold down a job and communicate with other humans in a mature fashion. But here is my autistic child who certainly resembles a young man, and needs around the clock supervision and care.
Biologically, he is still destined to change, as we all age and appear different on the outside at various points in our lives. The difference between another person and Jack is that emotional and mental metamorphosis happen alongside the physical. Peter Pan gets to physically remain a boy and play forever. Young men like Jack can act in this fashion but still mature in the manly sense. It's becoming a bit complicated...
A few days ago a mentor took Jack roller skating but had to remove him from the ring because he kept skating up to girls and grabbing their hands. He is not a big guy, but knows nothing of boundaries, and in his innocence, just wants to skate with them. I've seen him turn his head more than once looking at pretty young things on a beach or at the mall, and we have joked about his love of women. And this is because somewhere he is a man in the making. So, on one hand I am happy about this maturity he is displaying, and on the other hand I am crushed, when the young ladies walk away laughing.
Teenage girls are often cruel and a few times now I have felt the need to interject by saying, "He is autistic...he thinks you are pretty." And with my husband's piercing eyes and my father's million-dollar smile, those girls would have been crazy for him, I know, if things were different. And so, it goes on...
Not too long ago, my husband came home with an electric shaver, as a gift for Jack. Right before the big moment, I found him sitting in our master bathroom and he said again, "Please shave my mustache." And so, it was done, as I held up his chin and looked deeply into his eyes. “Good Man,” I said to my Man-Boy, and I held up the mirror so he could see his new face. The young man who just shaved his mustache for the first time still needed help in the shower and afterwards I lovingly put him in the tub and washed his hair.
We called my father and my brother to share the news. I am sitting alone now, days later, writing this article, while my kids and husband are doing their thing while Sunday Dinner is cooking. And, I will admit, I am having those mixed emotions again...but this time they are accompanied by a little bit of hope, because it finally dawned on me what makes a man.
A real man is a good man. A real man is an honest man too. And when Jack stands before God one day, hopefully a long time from now, God will say, "You have been a real man, Jack. Enter into My Kingdom." And so, my prayer now will be that Jack will be the best man he can be, the man he was designed to be, always loving, always gentle, always REAL. That is a dream guy enough for me. And it is a blessing.
Note from Mrs. Lo: Thank you to Laura Licata Sullivan, one of my favorite writers to be a Guest Blogger, in honor of World Autism Day. Laura also writes for Hudson Valley Parent Magazine. For more of her blog, check out the link below: