When I learned that a commentary I wrote about Clay, and how funny he is, was going to appear in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I realized there was something important I had neglected to do.
I have been chronicling a lot of intimate details of Clay’s life over the past 10 months. What he had to say the first time he typed. His message to his Mom on Mother’s Day. His first school dance. His 15th birthday. The loss of our dog. His first horseback ride. The first story he ever wrote. The amazing day when he appeared on a panel at Arcadia University.
I’ve written exactly 50 posts. Some made fun of his quirky behaviors like compulsively turning on lights or stripping our Christmas tree of its decorations. Others shared his anxiety over school or how much his camp counselors enjoyed their time with him.
Here’s what I didn’t do. In all that time, I never asked my son what he thought about having his life shared so publicly. As Clay has learned to communicate his thoughts and feelings through his keyboard, one lesson has hit me between the eyes again and again. Underneath the front that his autism presents to the world, sits a smart kid, who is very much aware of his condition. A kid who shines when he is treated with the respect we all deserve. I should have included Clay in the decision to write about him in this blog.
So, the other evening, after dinner and his nightly shower, with Clay snuggled into warm pajamas, my wife and I posed some questions to him on the keyboard he uses to communicate:
“What do you think about so many people reading about you and your typing?”
“So cool that they are reading about me in the blog,” he typed, while wandering around the kitchen.
“Do you mind that we share stories about you?”
“Yes, I like it very much. We are so happy that we are so popular.” (His older brother kids him that he has become a celebrity.)
Clay needed a break at this point, so he headed up to his room for some well-deserved time wrapped in his comforter. After a few minutes, my wife followed with the keyboard and two more questions.
“Is there anything you want to say to the people who have been reading about you?”
“A time to say so thrilled to have a voice.”
“Do you have any advice for others who might want to learn to type?”
“Stay strong and keep faith in yourself you are powerful and so awesome.”
A message for all of us. And a reminder to me that—every day, despite our ups and downs together—my son deserves to be treated like the intelligent, loving, funny, and surprisingly-wise-for-his-age kid that he is.