I struggle with the color Red. Perhaps it’s the boldness or its “Look at me!” demeanor, but I avoid it; feeling drawn to muted shades, the ones that fade into the background and enhance rather than overwhelm things around them.
But my son loves bright colors, despising white, grey, black and brown. And he went through a longish phase when red was his favorite color. Since my son is comforted and motivated by color, this meant that I had to embrace red. Red curtains, red backpack, red shirts… they are all part of my life now.
Much like autism. It’s bold, it draws attention, and I would prefer my life was free of such overwhelming things. But there it is, present and demanding acceptance.
I’ll be honest with you. My son can “pass.” I hear all the time that people “wouldn’t guess, if I didn’t know, that he has autism.” And there was a time when I hid us behind his ability to fake “normal.” But now I realize this hiding wasn’t serving anyone – not my son, not me and certainly not the people who stared and were confused by his odd behavior. By pretending he was “normal,” we didn’t allow others to fully know, support and understand him. And he was easily dismissed as weird… or worse, problematic.
It’s tempting to stay in this place, blending his autism into the background, “passing,” and relying on his strengths to outshine his deficits. It’s like wearing grey clothes and sensible shoes. No one will notice us, and therefore we will not be judged.
But my son is Red. He can’t help it. The autism comes out because it’s part of who he is. He will talk too loud; he will have huge emotional reactions to small things; he will be slow to respond to greetings and questions; and he probably won’t ever look you in the eye. And instead of pretending nothing’s wrong, most people who interact with him will know exactly why he does (or doesn’t do) these things. He has autism and sometimes that’s as obvious as a blaring red siren.
I call my son the poster child for early intervention. Diagnosed at two and immediately put into a flagship day treatment program, he’s learned amazing ways to compensate for his deficits. As he’s aged his sensory issues have diminished, his anxiety has gone down, and we enjoy full inclusion at his school.
But this is only possible because his teachers are fully aware of how his autism impacts him in small and large ways. And they support him throughout his day. They also support his irregular development. This is a kid who is a full two years ahead in math, but still struggles to put on his shoes, eat his lunch and write legibly.
He’s amazingly kind, but says “thoughtless” things to peers when playing games or ignores them completely. And because they know his strengths and weaknesses, few of them take it personally and most seem to appreciate what he’s able to contribute.
And while my closet remains free of red clothing, I allow my son to be as bold as he wants to be because there’s no hiding autism. It just is. So I’m making my peace with Red, because it’s warm and declarative, unexpected and strong. Just like my son.