3 things my son with autism does so well that I want to improve in myself

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Daniel Whallon, CLCS.

My son Ezekiel is an amazing kid. While most parents would echo the same sentiment with their own children, I can truly say that Zeke is a special, special boy. When I say that, I am not talking just within our family and friend circles. Zeke seems to hold a special place in the hearts of everyone he meets. He was diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 3 and more recently with ADHD as a 5 year old. My wife and I love who our son is and would never want to change anything about him, but we also realize he needs some assistance. The intervention that we receive for him, such as ABA therapy, psychiatry, and occupational therapy are simply tools to help him function and thrive in a world where the cards are stacked against him. And while there are areas where he needs some assistance and guidance, he does some remarkable things that I think we can all learn from.

While there are a number of characteristics I could highlight about my son, I want to stick to three prime examples of things he does exceptionally.

  1. He cares about everyone, and remembers their name. Zeke just started kindergarten and it already feels like he knows everyone’s name at his school. On day one we were walking to his class and were approached by two teachers whom we assumed were aids in his own class. “Hi, Ezekiel!” “Hi Mrs. Smith! That’s Mrs. Smith, she teaches 4th grade. And that’s Mrs. Jones, she teaches 5th grade”. He has an amazing memory and he chooses to use this gift for other people. I love watching people’s faces light up when he shouts their name. Usually the response is amazement or awing at how cute he is, but beneath the surface I think something more profound happens. Our identity is tied to our name. Only a select group of people know our name; friends, family, coworkers, etc. Our connection and value to people in these circles is often defined by our relationship with them. The amazing thing about Zeke is he assigns value to you as soon as he learns your name, and that value has no strings attached.
  2. While he cares about people, he doesn’t care what they think of him. As someone who has personally dealt with anxiety, this is an area where I can learn so much from my boy. It is easy to let the thoughts of others influence our behavior. To an extent, this is certainly true of all of us. However, there are some people in this world who have an amazing ability not let the thoughts and opinions of others phase them, and Ezekiel is one of those people. During his summer school, we were upset when we learned some kids had picked on him in class. Zeke’s response wasn’t anger or sadness, but curiosity. He wanted to know why they were acting that way towards him, but it clearly didn’t phase him and how he approached the rest of his day. Whoever coined the saying about dancing like no one is looking and singing like no one can hear you must have just seen a video of Zeke performing a song in front of our very large family. He does what makes him happy, without fear of what others might think.
  3. His persistence is unmatched and will lead to his success. Once he gets his mind on something, it is hard to get it on something else. While sometimes redirection of his thoughts is completely necessary and appropriate, his persistence is quite amazing and it excites me to think on where it might take him in life. He is already reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level as a kindergartner. My wife told me the other day that she already needed to return the 13 library books she got him only a few days after we had checked them out. Zeke likes to read, but he loves to finish books. He actually gets frustrated with chapter books because they cannot always be finished in one sitting. He isn’t driven with everything he does in life by any means, but he is driven and persistent with the things he loves, including finishing books and profusely negotiating for a muffin after dinner.

I have come to learn the things that make my son different are actually strengths, not deficits. Sure, he needs help in some areas, but don’t we all? Our needs don’t need to mirror each other’s, we just need to recognize that everyone has them and some are dramatically different than others. My hope for this world is it continues to make room for atypical people in every part of society so we can all benefit from the unique gifts they bring to the table.