One Saturday morning, when Ben was six years old, he climbed next to me in bed as I was sleeping.
“Mommy,” he whispered. “do I have autism?”
I was jarred awake. It was one of those crucial moments; I realized I had to address this perfectly or he could be traumatized. We have never kept the word autism a secret. We have never whispered it, and we have talked openly about it all of his life.
“Well, sweetie, “ I said carefully. “Some of the experts say that you have a little bit of autism, yes.” Good, I thought. That was a good answer. But I wasn’t prepared for what he asked next.
“Is it because I did something wrong?”
If you could have heard the sound of a mother’s heart breaking, it would have sounded like that silence. A hundred moments passed between my son and I.
“Honey, having autism is just a thing. There’s nothing wrong. It’s like having curly hair or blue eyes or being tall or having freckles.”
Ben looked at me across the galaxy and smiled.
“Okay!” he said cheerfully, and he got up and ran downstairs with a spring in his step. He has never mentioned autism to me again in the same way.