First of all, I know Ryan is not Shaun Murphy and Shaun Murphy does not, and can not, represent every individual who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, but, for this mom, hearing a young autistic man (albeit a fictitious autistic man) say those words hurt as much as they did when I obsessed over the words "love" and "autism" all those years ago.
I swear it took like 30 seconds after I heard, "your son has autism” for the big questions to begin. Oh my God, what if he never gets married? What if he never finds love? What if after I’m gone he is alone? Thanks to The Good Doctor, those questions went running like a freight train through my head again this week. Then of course, the biggest question of all, why the hell do I watch this sh** when my kid is living it…sort of.
I have to admit, whether it’s The Good Doctor, Atypical or Parenthood, although I like that autism is at least being portrayed on television (even though some critics do not think autism is being portrayed well or by the right people, but, that’s another blog), I sometimes wonder why I put myself through it. Why do I watch Dr. Shaun Murphy struggle to understand sarcasm and jokes? Why do I watch others mock him and look down on him because they don’t understand him? Why do I watch Dr. Shaun Murphy crawl into bed in a lonely, barren apartment and struggle to sleep because his kitchen faucet is dripping? Why…because in many aspects, I am just as clueless about autism as Dr. Shaun Murphy’s colleagues.
I will never understand why the touch of paper to Ryan feels so bothersome. I will never know how hard he has to work to process a typical conversation so he knows how to respond. I will never understand the degree of anxiey a change in routine causes him. And although the question has plagued me for years, I may never truly know how Ryan feels about love, marriage and fatherhood. And yes, I know watching a fictitious character on television may not explain how my Ryan feels, but, it does give me insight that I may not ever get from my son.
I’m not autistic, but, I can’t imagine that anyone, autism or not, does not want love. Of course, I can't know that for sure. What I think is important to remember is whether it’s Dr. Shaun Murphy or my son Ryan, love looks different for everyone. Dr. Shaun Murphy looks at his attending physician planning a wedding and sees that as love, but, the love he had for his bunny and his brother was no less than the love a man has for a woman. I think we all love people differently. We don’t love our parents the way we love our children. We don’t love our spouses the way we love our friends, but, our love for each group is not less, it’s different. So who is to say that the way an individual with autism shows love or feels love is any less than any neurotypical individual? I don’t believe for a second it is and neither should you.
Whether or not Dr. Shaun Murphy or my son Ryan want love and find love is yet to be determined, but, what this mom has to remember, is that if Ryan chooses love, how he expresses his love and his emotions may look different than mine or yours, but, they are never, ever less.