My son Elisha is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been granted.

He was born the day after Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, in Toronto. Elisha is my second child, a cathartically normal pregnancy for both my spouse and I, who had been traumatized by the early birth at 33 weeks of Elisha’s older brother L 2.5 years before.

Elisha was born at thirty eight weeks of gestation, after a short labor, he nursed well and was a joy to his tired parents.

One of my nicknames for this beautiful child is deutero, because he is a spit image of me.

The biblical story of Elisha is a terrible one. Elisha was a prophet and miracle worker in ancient Israel, who cured sickness and helped in war, but that is not what he is remembered for. One day a gang of kids heckled him and called him ‘baldy’. He cursed these kids and two bears came out of the foods and ate the forty-two children. In modern Hebrew there is an expression that refers to this horror, ‘No bears and no woods’, it is offered in contexts of incredulity and indirectly reflects the belief that this horror never took place.

The second Elisha was an apostate of the rabbinic period, famous for his erudition and his very public heresy. Among his students were some of the most important rabbinic sages. In rabbinic literature he is simply named ‘the other one’.

I named my son Elisha, knowing these stories.

I also named him for a family member Elijah who had just died, and for my teacher Rabbi Elisha, who is part of the reason that I married the person I married.

At 3 it was clear that Elisha’s verbal development was lagging, and at 5 he was diagnosed with autism. Elisha was more like me than I knew. Only one of my children inherited this neural wiring present in both our families, and he was deeper on the spectrum than I ever was. Elisha was the quintessential other, like his rabbinic namesake, and it took me too long to recognize it.

I feel that we lost a year with Elisha, because of my internalized ableism, I recognized that he was lagging, but I chose to believe that he was a slow developer and did not pursue early intervention, despite a clear genetic proclivity towards autism. This was stupid stubbornness.

Elisha has taught me so much about myself.

Tendencies of mine that have grown muted because of vigilant masking are present in him in their beautiful unvarnished form.

Like stimming, those calming repetitive motions that help regulate mood and behavior.

I have so little of that anymore. I don’t think I stood on my head while munching cheerios like he does, but I used to calm myself with wide circular hand motions. I think I lost an opportunity at a professorship once because of my ‘enthusiastic’ hand motions, so I have policed myself rigorously in the past 15 years and I no longer stim in that way. I rigidly hold my hands at my side or seize the podium for dear life. I don’t feel calmer or happier, but I don’t stim anymore. There were probably many other stims that my parents ironed out from my behavior as a kid. I don’t remember them anymore. I hope one day that I regain some of it.

Elisha, please teach me!

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The Gifts of the Neuro-atypical

Here is one of my favorite sections of my book. I promise you there is more to come!