The Nature Of Autism

My parents have a cottage on a remote lake deep in the woods. We’re lucky enough to go with my sister and her kids each summer.

One of my favorite happenings in nature is to encounter a deer unexpectedly in my path. There’s something about seeing deer in the wild that is so connective; they lock your eyes without flinching and capture each move you make to be sure that they are safe and understood. You’re humbled and excited all at the same time, afraid to call out or move a muscle for fear of breaching the perfection of the understanding between you.

I saw one the other day, as I was bringing towels down to the water and what occurred to me in that moment was how present I was; how vulnerable I was allowing myself to be and how grounded I felt by the experience.

I supposed that’s why people (including me) feel close to God in nature.

Then another thought occurred to me. There was something else in my life that gave me this connected feeling: working with my nephew, who is on the autism spectrum. I always joke with him that he’s my hero and have no problem admitting how much he’s impacted me (to anyone who will listen) but what I haven’t yet explored was why I feel so empty now that it’s over.

What was addictive to me about being with my nephew each day (for ten years!) as he navigated his school life was his amazing ability to be present, pure and unadulterated. Most people do not have the courage to live their lives this transparently. They add layers to protect themselves. But my nephew is himself at all times. I have huge respect for that.

Now, as he prepares for his first year on his own at his new school, I see the subtle teenagerness settling in. He jokes, he smirks, he chides. I love to see him tinker with this, and his new found swagger.

But underneath it, shining through so clearly is his unbelievable sweetness, and purity of soul that, like a deer running off into the forest, leaves me breathless and grateful every time.

Sara Winter was a classroom aide to kids on the spectrum for ten years, and  the founder of SquagTM . She lives with her husband and two young sons in Toronto.