“He’s going to have autism forever and every day?”
That’s the question that my youngest son innocently asked me this 4th of July. We talk about autism openly in our home since his brother’s diagnosis, but his 5 year old mind hadn’t quite grasped this part I guess. He looked on concerned as his big brother, the coolest and bravest boy he knows, hid from the booming fireworks in his bed.
We had navigated our 4th so far with little sign that we have both a neurotypical child and a neurodivergent child. They ate the same colorful breakfast board I created with care. They played football in the yard together and rode bikes. We painted fireworks pictures. They created an epic driveway battle with their boxes of pop-its. With the help of noise canceling headphones and a lot of reassurances, they even both enjoyed playing with sparklers while a few large fireworks went off here and there through our neighborhood.
Once the fireworks really ramped up however, the clock struck the proverbial midnight and time was up. I could see in his eyes that his brain was officially overloaded and he sprinted indoors. I stood outside with our youngest while my husband followed our oldest indoors. We “ooooh-ed” and “ahhhhh-ed” and he looked back at the house sadly from time wishing his brother could enjoy this with him.
When we had finally been turned into buffets by the mosquitos and could take no more, we too retreated indoors. I went upstairs to check on his brother and he followed suit. We found him on his bed playing a mario game on his Nintendo 2DS to keep his mind focused on something other than the booms outside his window. I laid down beside him.
That’s when my youngest entered the room and asked, “next year, will brother’s brain be used to the noise so we can both watch fireworks together?” I explained, “that’s not how autism works, buddy. It doesn’t go away. That’s why we stay home or close to home on the 4th of July, so brother can go inside quickly when he needs to. Fireworks and other noises don’t just scare or annoy your brother. They hurt his brain and make it hard for him to think or do anything and sometimes they make him run away from us.” My oldest spoke up, “yeah, sometimes loud noises just stun me. And I don’t know what’s happening or where I am. My brain freezes like it’s stunned and all I can think about is running away from the noise.” “He’s going to have autism forever and every day?”, my youngest replied puzzled. “Yes. Autism is a part of how your brother was made and how his mind works. It’s ok that you’re different, but it just means we do some things differently sometimes so that you both can find a way to enjoy things like fireworks in your own ways.”
A few minutes later, they both came downstairs. Our oldest sat next to a window, his back to it, playing a video game, with his little brother looking on beside him at the bursts of light and sound erupting through our neighborhood with glee.