“Denial” is one of those cheap pop psychology terms everyone throws around. “He is in denial,” they say as if the denier inhabits a fantasy land. Do I inhabit a fantasy land? It is two years ago. I start noticing that my artistic two-year-old likes to draw boom boxes.  He draws them all the time, at his art table, in his sketchbook, outside on the driveway pavement. Hundreds of boom boxes. Thousands. They become more intricate, more detailed. He talks about boom boxes all the time. My wife and I think his passion for them is cute. We are impressed by his prodigious output. I make videos of him drawing the boom boxes.  My wife takes pictures.  We draw boom boxes with him.  I start to wonder, Isn’t this a little strange? A little boy who does nothing but draw boom boxes?  I discuss it with my wife but we decide that he’s just being quirky.  We encourage him to draw other things. People, for example. He’s not interested in people. He wants to draw boom boxes. I am somewhat relieved when the boom boxes morph into cars. The speakers become headlights, the handle the outline of a windshield. Now he draws boom boxes and cars, all the time. It worries me. But why should it? Didn’t I like to draw when I was a boy? I drew spotlights and TV cameras (my father was a television producer). But did I draw as many spotlights as my son draws boom boxes? Not nearly. And was I two? No, I was eight or nine. Our friends call him a prodigy, a genius. When he’s almost four, I make a video of him drawing a race car. I speed it up five times as fast, put it on YouTube. Our friends can’t believe how detailed the drawing is. They’re blown away.  ”But isn’t this a little weird,” I ask my wife. “No. He’s just very artistic.” But I know a thing or two about autism. I teach special education. A few of my students are autistic. One day, I’m in a meeting discussing a kindergartner. It’s called a Student Success Team meeting and we (the student’s parent and teacher, the assistant principal and the school psychologist, the speech therapist, the nurse and I) are discussing the trouble the child is having in class.  It’s a pretty sad case. The child, a boy, has little self control. He hits the other children and punctures his own skin with pencils. I’m sitting there listening to this depressing story  when something strange happens. I become the parent. The speech therapist seems to be talking about my son. Does he like to stare at fans?  Yes, all the time; he likes to draw them too.  Does he like to run back and forth? Oh, my God; all the time. No, the little boy is not artistic, and luckily my son doesn’t poke himself with pencils. But in many other ways, behaviorally, emotionally, they are identical. After the meeting, I take the speech therapist aside and tell her about this sudden revelation. Should I have my son assessed? Yes, you should. I get on the phone with my wife to tell her what on some level I suspected all along. “Our son is autistic.” But today I am in this place called denial. It’s a place where I see my son, now officially diagnosed as autistic, as anything but. It’s a place where all four-year-olds seem just like him and he seems just like them. It’s a safe place where he should stay, a place from which no adult should ever drag him, especially when that adult is me. But where was I going with all of this? Oh, yeah: that term I hate. Denial. Can’t we just call it doubt?

 

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