Writing Through Autistic Eyes:
By Paul Nelson
In 2013, after a 16-year battle with lupus, my wife, Cynthia passed away. Our son, Michael, had been diagnosed with autism in 2000. Michael is mostly non-verbal, with moderately severe autism. After Cynthia’s death, I thought long and hard about how Michael saw what was happening in his life. I knew I wanted to write young adult fiction, aimed at teaching tolerance and acceptance. I decided to write a book from Michael’s point-of-view, and Through Fisher’s Eyes: An Autism Adventure was born. I tried very hard to write this book as Michael might, if he were able. I wanted to show his struggles, but I also wanted to show his amazing abilities. So, I made the book a fantasy work, where Michael, (Fisher) and his autistic friends, discovered that they had super powers. Together, they used these powers to fight an evil gang in high school. The book contains many episodes from my daily life with Michael, and many fantastic adventures.
I wanted to keep writing. I wrote the second book, Dark Spectrum, from the point-of-view of the evil character in the first book. (Jonah) Dark Spectrum was my absolute favorite to write. It continues the story, and is filled with ghosts, demons, civil war heroes, and a huge battle in Gettysburg, PA. I wanted this book to appeal to young male readers, because many young men in central Pennsylvania, where we live, are not encouraged to be tolerant and caring. Thus, Michael and I have had some real challenges in this area.
Michael loved it when I read to him from the first two books, so I kept going, and wrote A Problem With the Moon. This third book is told with an emphasis on many of my experiences, and feelings, as a care giver. It features aliens, a mysterious figure named Triptych, and a large, burly Pennsylvania Mountain Man, named Mountain John. It portrays the importance of people with disabilities in the world. (In many ways, I believe that people with autism are the “normal” ones, and most of us are plain crazy.)
Michael and I continue to have many daily adventures. He is my rock, and the hero of my life. I’ve never found his autism to be a “curse.” Sure, we’ve had challenges, but he has changed the way I see life for the better. He’s opened my heart, and made me a far better person. I wouldn’t trade my life with my autistic son for anything in the universe…and beyond.
-Paul Nelson – 2016
What You Do and Don’t See with Autism:
When one looks at an autistic person, what do they notice? Do they see the hand-flapping? Do they get irritated, or nervous? Do they see someone who has a sensitivity to certain noises, or someone who appears to be awkward and disconnected socially? In a few instances, I have even seen people who get angry with someone who is autistic. Indeed, I used to have many of these feelings before I was blessed with an autistic child. Let me tell you a little of my story. I’m a middle school teacher, and a widower. For the most part, I’ve raised my son alone. I used to cross the street to avoid people with disabilities. I used to be fearful, and unsure of what to say or do around someone who was autistic. Then, I spent sixteen years caring for my bed-ridden wife, and raising Michael. Let me tell you what I see with autism now.
My autistic son, Michael, has changed the way I view life, and the world. For example, I used to be a true worrier. I fretted and fussed about everything. I wanted to be in complete control all the time. Of course, this is impossible. Michael has taught me to relax and enjoy each minute I’m blessed with. When you have an autistic child, you learn that every moment is precious, especially when it is NOT perfect. I don’t try to keep my floors perfectly clean anymore. I don’t get upset if my pug, Lily, demolishes a roll of paper towels. I smile, and enjoy her innocent face as I clean it up. When Michael and I are riding in the car, I enjoy sharing a bottle of water with him, as we drive through the countryside, listening to music. Now, instead of focusing on little imperfections, I usually see the big beautiful picture.
Then, there was the time I was getting ready to take a shower, and I remembered that the clothes I needed were downstairs in the laundry basket. I decided to “brave it” and run down to the basement naked. I ran down the stairs, and just as I reached the last step, I heard Michael latch the basement door. I was locked downstairs in the buff, and the only way back upstairs was out the garage door and up the stairs, in full view of the neighbors! I heard Michael giggling upstairs as he ran around the house. “He knew he had “gotten me good!” After what seemed to be an eternity of knocking on the basement door and sternly commanding Michael to open the door, I heard the latch open. I slid through the door like a bewildered cat, and looked at my son’s huge, proud grin. I couldn’t keep myself from laughing, as I went back to the bathroom.
“Good one, buddy!” I said over my naked shoulder.
Michael has also drastically changed how I see people. I see people who fail to appreciate the warm sun, a good cup of coffee, close friendship, and a million other daily pleasures so often taken for granted. I see people who drive too fast. I see that many people don’t smile enough. (Michael smiles almost constantly.) Most of all, I see people as I used to be…fretting over trivial things, and missing the big picture.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’ve seen trials and challenges. I’ve seen difficulties, like the time my son hit his head, and complete strangers thought he was a spoiled brat who “needed to be taken in the men’s room, and taught a lesson.” I’ve seen Michael’s frustration with toilet training until the age of ten. I’ve seen tears and I’ve shed them. I’m not falsely chipper, and in denial. In fact, my eyes are wide open now thanks to my autistic son. I look at him and see courage and determination in his eyes. I see warmth and kindness, and a love I had trouble even imagining before I knew him. In short, I see a hero.