Participating in Stories of Autism has been a true gift to me. Not only has it introduced me to so many new people and families – but it has also allowed me to reconnect with families from my childhood. I loved getting the chance to meet Eion earlier this year, and Eion is going to make you smile, too:
Why Can’t Kids?
Eion will often start questions with those three words, usually as part of his argument to justify some inappropriate behavior that he has or wants to engage in. These behaviors are not really self-injurious or harmful to others in the community, but rather a challenge to the status quo of daily life.
For example, as part of the programming of Eion’s school, he and his classmates go twice a week to the local YMCA for a half hour of swimming. Upon one such swimming session Eion decided that he would shed his trunks. His attempt was cut short by a staff member and had to sit out the rest of the swim period.
After these types of situations, Sandi or I will talk to Eion about why he thought that was an appropriate action to take. As part of this particular conversation, E asked, “Why can’t kids swim naked?” Sandi responded that kids can’t swim without trunks and that no one really needs to see what under his trunks.
This got me thinking as to other “Why can’t kids” questions Eion has asked.
“Why can’t kids live at Disney?” “Why can’t kids play the Star Wars games at the casino?” “Why can’t kids skip breakfast and go right to the Magic Kingdom?” “Why can’t kids stay up all night on a school night?” “Why can’t kids fly on United every day?”
I like the fact that Eion challenges the status quo. He is always questioning why things are the way that they are. It is his unique way of advocating. In the way he phrases the question, “Why Can’t Kids…..?,” not “Why Can’t I…..?”, you can see both the questioning of why and advocacy for more than himself.
I do not know the origin of this style of advocacy. He has heard me make arguments advocating for this position or that position, but I do not think I have ever advocated quite like he does.
The prevailing thought is that individuals impacted by autism do not react or understand the world around them and do not often consider the other people around them. Eion’s drive to question authority and the reasons behind decisions constantly challenge these notions. It is that innate need to question and challenge that makes him unique and wonderful as well as so difficult at the same time. Often he will ask a question that Sandi and I have to take a minute or two to think about before answer. I never answer “because” or “because I said so”. Those types of answers were irritating to me as a child and I promised myself I would never use them when I became a parent and I never have. Sandi and I do not soften or dumb things down when discussing matters or issues with Eion. We speak with him as any parent would speak to his/her own fifteen year-old.
In a world of stereotypes, I like the fact that Eion shatters the typical notions of autism. Yes, he is good at math, but is that because of the typical stereotype of being impacted autism or because of the typical stereotype of being Asian? He loves motion, roller coasters and speed. Is that because of autism or because he is almost fifteen years old?
Eion is unable to talk, but speaks volumes in just few keystrokes. He challenges most typical notions and thoughts of autism as much as he is impacted by it. He acknowledges his difference and his difficulties in interacting with world around him, but still lives the life of an active, typical fifteen year old. We rarely deny him the opportunity to live, for fear I will hear a question beginning with those three words, “Why Can’t Kids….”
When Eion begins a question with “Why Can’t Kids”, I smile knowing that kids, especially Eion, can.
Chuck, father of Eion