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Finding the Humor and Laughter in Life With Autism

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If someone would have told me 26 years ago that life with autism would resemble comic relief at times, I would have never believed them. Let’s face it, the demands and rigors from day one are often overwhelming and anything but funny. Bouts of sensory overload, stims that lead to frustration, breakdowns in communication, or wants and needs all changing on a dime rarely present as humorous. Until one day, they do.

Such has been the case on numerous occasions that reminded me to lighten up and laugh. Many children go through phases and children on the spectrum are no exception. For a period of time, Jonathan was fascinated by baldness. Yes, you read correctly, bald heads. This made for very intense outings whenever I would spy a bald head in public. One day, while we were in Penzey’s and I was on a quest to find some spices, accompanied by husband and Jonathan, I turned and saw a 6’4” man with a bald head. 

Too late― Jonathan made his move and ran up to the man from behind and proceeded to reach for his head. Mortified, I rushed over and just as I was apologizing and explaining in one breath, the man smiled and put his head down for Jonathan who was beyond thrilled to accept his invitation. Turns out his nephew had autism and he thought it was a hoot, as did several onlookers― one jokingly offered to shave his head! 

I thought I had seen it all at that point and we continued to work with Jonathan regarding personal space and not touching stranger’s bald heads. He seemed to be understanding and the occurrences lessened dramatically. Then came Christmas Eve. We headed to mass and tried to get our usual spot in church. As expected, it was quite crowded and somehow we managed to find room in a pew for the five of us. 

As we settled in, there right in front of us was a man with a bald head and to make matters worse, the recessed lighting shone directly on it like a ray from heaven! I looked at my husband and he looked at me with the “now what do we do?” look as we hoped for the best. Jonathan stared intently at the man’s head, and the look on his face was intense. He knew he wasn’t supposed to touch it, but there it was, just within reach. 

Mass began and seemed to proceed in slow motion. Not only was tension building in Jonathan but me as well, waiting for the inevitable turn of events right in the middle of the service. The homily ended and the church was silent, but Jonathan had reached his limit. He loudly exclaimed: “Good haircut!”, which echoed throughout the church, but luckily refrained from touching the man’s head.  

I tried my best not to respond, but I could feel the laughter starting to escape. I turned to look beside me and Jeff, Cassie and Sammi were all trying to control their giggles. We lost our composure, but Jonathan maintained his, and autism cracked a funny for sure. It is a Christmas we will never forget!

Another family favorite occurred while we were boating. This also took place at the same restaurant with the friends I mentioned in an earlier post. The restaurant was called the Nau-Ti-Gal.  Leave it to autism to find the naughty and humor in that one! The backstory here is that another of Jonathan’s stims was a fascination with anything producing smoke or steam. 

When I would make pasta and dump it into the strainer, Jonathan would run over and stand there, staring at the puffs of steam escaping from the colander. On car rides, factories with smoke stacks or steam would capture his attention. One Halloween he wore out the fog machine when my neighbor let Jonathan take the controls.

So, after a long day of boating, we tied up our boats to the dock and stopped for dinner. We had a great time and lots of fun, and then it was time to leave. My friend and I left with our girls and headed for the boats, while our husbands and sons stayed to pay the bill. Just as my friend and I reached our boats, I heard my husband yell, “Jonathan, no!” 

I turned around in time to see Jonathan take off running on the porch that wrapped around the entire restaurant, with our husbands in hot pursuit. I was starting to make my way back when I spotted Jonathan running back, where he then abruptly stopped at a table right next to where we had been seated. My husband, right behind him, looked to be in conversation with the man sitting there. It was brief and our husbands, along with the boys headed toward us, doubled over laughing. Clearly we had missed something. 

Turns out, the man sitting at the table had just lit a cigarette and yeah, guess what Jonathan saw and reached for, proceeded to put it to his lips for a puff, and when my husband yelled, took off with cigarette in hand. When they returned, Jonathan quickly set it back in the ashtray and a very confused man said to them, “I know I’ve had a few beers, but I had thought for sure I’d lit a cigarette!” They had a good laugh over the flight of the cigarette and it’s one that still gives us a chuckle.

While those are just a few of the humorous moments over the years, I continue to appreciate each and every one. They remind me not to take life with autism so seriously, because like life in general, there will be times of happiness and sorrow, challenges and triumphs. With some of the most memorable being the gift of laughter. Unpredictable but always welcome, especially those  times when it was needed the most and least expected. 

Who would have guessed autism has sense of humor and could make us laugh? Obviously, Jonathan!

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