This guest post is by Jill Briesch, a tax accountant from Dallas, TX who has two sons with autism. She and her family are also the DFW Node ambassador family for the Autism BrainNet Initiative.
“So, Darth Vader, what was your favorite part of the day at school today?”
It’s dinnertime and as is often the case, my husband and I have been joined at the table by a pint sized Darth Vader and Stormtrooper, otherwise known as our sons Alexander (5) and William (almost 3). Our Darth Vader, his mouth completely full, sits up very tall in his chair. “Mama, outside, I asked two friends to play Star Wars. They said “yes” and we played good spaceships and bad spaceships. Today was my most favorite day forever (ever).”
Just like that, I find myself blinking back tears. Tears of joy because he is still basking in a haze of happiness that two boys he considers his friends played his favorite genre with him. Tears of thankfulness that they did it, for I am quite sure that these children have likely heard a lifetime’s worth of information about Star Wars whether they were interested or not. And truth be told, tears of fear that someday, no one will say “yes” any more. You see, Alexander has autism and spends his dawn to dusk working hard to accomplish what comes naturally for most, and he absolutely loves Star Wars.
I asked him why once, late last summer. He looked at me as if I had asked the world’s most ridiculous question. “Because, Mama, in Star Wars the good guys always win. Even when it’s really hard. They just keep trying, and then they win.” A perfect anecdote to his own life. No wonder he identifies so strongly with Star Wars. Herculean effort is his day in and day out existence.
He loves all the characters, but his absolute favorite character is Darth Vader. Not because of the mask, although he thinks it is super cool. Not because of the red light saber or the long, swishy black cape. And not because of the enviable TIE Advanced spaceship. I think it is because he relates to him. As I was tucking him in after a particularly difficult day earlier this month, he suddenly piped up and said that he had something to say to me. “Darth Vader does stuff that makes no one want to be by him. He doesn’t know why, he just does it. But at the end, he makes really good choices. I’m like him.” That was the night I ordered him a plush Darth Vader to sleep with.
Alexander refers to all of his stuffed animals and toys as his friends and I know no one who is more meticulous in making sure they are tucked in exactly right every night. 5 years olds place a lot of weight on having best friends, and it’s definitely a “the more you have, the better” thing. Having a lot of friends in real life isn’t quite as easy for him, and we spend a lot of time working on social thinking and skills. One of the neatest lessons Alexander has learned from Star Wars is what true friendship looks like. "Chewie doesn't talk but Han Solo understands him because they are best friends. That's why Han talks for him sometimes. That is a nice thing for a best friend to do."
My reverie comes to an end as I overhear my husband tell two disappointed little boys that no, they cannot bring their light sabers to the table to cut their food. They brighten at his counteroffer of helping them build an AT-AT Walker out of Legos though. The evening goes by in a flash. They build the AT-AT. They play Rebels versus Imperial Stormtroopers. Favored stuffed animals get to wear character masks and Star Wars action figures engage in daring new feats. I am assigned the less than glamorous role of Boba Fett, my husband is doing his best impression of a Rancor. There’s time for a quick bedtime story and then as he does most nights, Alexander asks how many more days until the new Star Wars movie comes out.
If I know my son, that day is going to be his new “most favorite day forever.”