I dropped Sophie off at dance class yesterday afternoon and picked up a fresh stack of library books. While I listened to the uneven pattering of half a dozen preschoolers in tap shoes and the gentle “1-and-2-and-3-and-4” of a kind teacher helping them across the floor in ballet slippers, I opened the children’s books I’d requested to pre-read them.
Among my stack was a book called Red: A Crayon’s Story. The story is of a crayon named Red, wrapped in a red wrapper, who actually writes blue.
His parents, teachers, grandparents, neighbors, and friends all try to come up with ways to get him to write in RED. Their comments, things similar to “I think he came from the factory this way” and “He’s lazy. He just needs to press harder” and “why can’t he just write red?” leapt off the page at me.
They try everything–extra practice with the teacher, trying to get him to spend time with other colors of crayons to get out more, encouragement, discipline. None of it works. Every time Red tries to color, it simply comes out blue.
Eventually, Red meets someone new–a purple crayon who asks if he can draw a blue ocean to support his boat. Red is hesitant, but the purple crayon eventually encourages him to give it a try.
And it’s beautiful. A perfectly blue ocean.
From then on, Red draws blue oceans, bluebirds, blueberries, blue whales, etc. And they’re wonderful, unexpected, and perfect.
And thus, I found myself sitting outside a preschool dance class crying into a children’s book about crayons.
It’s Autism Awareness Day today. It’s also Autism Awareness Month, Sophie’s birth month, and the second anniversary of her autism diagnosis.
For nearly two years, I tried to tell someone that I thought my little red crayon colored blue and, in large part, was told by almost everyone that I had a red crayon, stop overreacting and being a perfectionist, and why can’t you just help her color red like everyone else?
An autism diagnosis, so incredibly hard to swallow, meant giving up on the life I thought I was going to lead. It meant giving up on the plan that my beautiful perfect daughter would spend a life coloring in red like she was meant to. It also meant learning to love a life in blue.
Although it’s a daily struggle, Sophie has absolutely flourished since her diagnosis. Much of that is because an official autism diagnosis opens the door to therapy, insurance coverage, school accommodations, and support. Sophie is such a hard worker. She’s completed literally thousands of hours of therapy, and keeps showing up. We’ve been blessed with an incredible team of therapists, doctors, specialists, and teachers who all love her. Quietly, kindly, and gently, they’ve loved her and our family.
In two years being an official part of team blue (blue is actually the official color for autism), I can say that autism is not something I would choose for Sophie. If someone handed me a magic wand and told me I could cure her of autism, I think I would do it. It is hard in ways I could never have imagined, so exquisitely painful sometimes that it hurts to breathe.
Sophie is radiant, beautiful, kind, and sweet. She’s fiery, stubborn, determined, and independent. She’s intense and gentle, easy and hard, soft and unyielding. She teaches me about hard work and forgiveness, and trying again, and mostly love.
What I want people to know most about autism is that it even though it means letting go of the red life you imagined, blue is the most incredible color.
God is good. Life is hard. Love wins.
And love–at our house–wears blue.
Autism rates are now at 1 in 68 for all children, with higher rates for boys than girls. Chances are that someone you know will be affected by autism. In honor of Autism Awareness Day, please be extra kind. Be understanding. Be gentle and supportive. Love wins!