When the Cute Factor Fades, Then What?


My 11-year-old son can charm just about anyone. With his sweet, outspoken and friendly demeanor, he has a very sincere way of making people feel good about themselves.

“Your hair is so beautiful,” Evan often says to curly-haired women – whether he knows them or not.

He has proposed to at least a dozen women (most of whom have curly hair). And, as far as I know, each has agreed to become his wife.

If someone says, “It was nice meeting you,” he commonly replies with “Oh, it was my pleasure [meeting you].”

He gets bonus points for remembering and using the names of those he has just met.

A few months ago I hosted a celebrity-chef cooking fundraiser for an organization that provides programs and services to kids and young adults with special needs. Evan has been going there since he was a toddler.

The day after the event I received an e-mail from one of the chefs.

“I really enjoyed meeting Evan,” she wrote. “I have been talking about him all day!! He’s a kind, sweet boy who made my day!! Meeting him was better than winning that competition.”

I know she meant what she said because she asked if she could catch up with Evan again and followed up on that request in a subsequent e-mail.

I love that my son is so unbelievably unique. I love that he is more comfortable in his own skin than anyone else I know. I love that he really has a gift for interacting with others.

But, Evan will not be a cute kid forever. One day his small, thin body will morph into that of an awkward teenager, and soon after he will enter adulthood. I imagine he will still be handsome with his thick blond hair and penetrating blue eyes. Even if he is strikingly good looking, what is now thought of as sweet and cute will one day be considered creepy, call-the-police-because-this-is-really-weird behavior. What woman would be flattered by a young adult asking to touch her curly locks? Even one of his unsolicited heartfelt compliments about beautiful hair would undoubtedly be interpreted as bizarre coming from a teen or adult.

Because there are unspoken rules that people are expected to follow, anything outside the norm is met with disdain. Sadly, the negative reactions Evan will get will crush my son’s carefree spirit.

I know that I can’t worry about everything, especially things that haven’t happened or may never happen. But scenarios like this play out in my head all the time and they also remind me of  why I write about Evan.
Taking every opportunity to educate others about neurodiversity is a great way to raise awareness and, more important, acceptance. Right now Evan makes it easy to spread the message because of all his positive attributes and because he is a cute kid. But, not every child is like Evan, and Evan won’t be that cute child forever.

I am so grateful that my son is who he is and that he often brings so much joy to those who meet him. But I look at other kids with disabilities and I know that they are often ignored or pitied by strangers or both. These kids deserve to be recognized for who they are. They bring so much to the world when given the chance.

This sentiment is expressed by Carly, a sweet, caring teen and daughter of someone I know. I love her words and how eloquently she expresses her emotions – but I wish she didn’t feel this way.

I use a wheelchair and I am always hiding,

but the seekers aren’t looking hard enough to find me.

I don’t like playing Hide and Seek.

My wheelchair is “It” so I always have to hide.

I don’t like being hidden.

If I had the choice, my wheelchair would be a game of “I Spy”, and then I would

always be seen.