By Jill Wilbur Smith
People sometimes ask me if I wish there were a cure for Asperger’s. It’s a tough question, and, for me, not one that has a yes or no answer.* Do I wish that I could magically eliminate Emily’s challenges? Of course. But I have the same wish for her neurotypical sister. In some ways, wishing I could cure Emily’s autism is like wishing I could “cure” her blue eyes.
Emily has many gifts that I believe she wouldn’t possess if she weren’t on the autism spectrum. If she didn’t have Asperger’s, she wouldn’t be the uniquely talented person she is. If I weren’t her mom, I wouldn’t be the woman I am, either.
This season of Thanksgiving reminds me to take time to reflect on the wonderful things I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Here are five things that make me thankful for my beautiful Aspie.
1. I’m thankful for the unique lens through which I get to view the world. Living with Emily, I’m often reminded that the way I experience life isn’t the same as the way others do. I’m grateful for the moments of clarity that illuminate those differences. Emily challenges me to expand my way of thinking. Some of the most rewarding experiences as a her parent have been those times when, instead of me pushing her to conform to social norms, she’s forced me to let go of my conventional way of thinking.
2. I’m thankful that Emily possesses a staggering intellect.
When Emily was 5, she told my sister, “Did you know that an elephant’s trunk can hold 10 quarts of water.”
“How do you know that, Emily?” her aunt asked.
Emily sighed and said, “Oh, Aunt Terri, I have a lot of knowledge.”
She, indeed, has a lot of knowledge. She fascinates me with the things she remembers and the insightful way she connects disparate facts. I truly believe that it positions her to be able to change the world.
3. I’m thankful for every moment of frustration I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Every time I’ve been exasperated that she couldn’t tie her shoes/ride a bike/pick up her toys/trick-or-treat/drive a car/join in a conversation, has helped me grow as a mother—and as a human being. I’ve come to understand that my frustration during these times pales in comparison to how frustrating life can be for her.
My co-workers often marvel at how calmly I manage office drama and challenging situations. “You’re so patient,” they say. I want to answer that I’m not patient, I’m accepting. Patience implies to me that I’m willing to wait for the other person to “come around,” to see things my way. What I hope Emily has taught me instead is to be empathetic.
4. I’m thankful for Emily’s amazing creative talent. At 9, Emily decided to play the piano. Within two years, she’d outgrown her piano teacher. She plays the euphonium with an unexpected tone and quality and more emotion than you would think possible from a large brass instrument. She has perfect pitch and a pure singing voice that often brings me to tears. She’s a great cook. And, at 22, she writes with a voice and in a style that I’m not sure I’ve achieved at more than twice her age.
5. I’m thankful for how often I’m surprised by my quirky, nerdy, talented, beautiful girl. Life is always interesting with Emily. We sometimes face challenges that others might never encounter. But we also have many moments of great wonder and joy. I wouldn’t trade my life with Emily for anything in the world.
(*I know we’re lucky. Emily’s place on the spectrum is far from the most challenging. I’m grateful for that and I know that our experience isn’t that of others.)