Max is planning to wear his beloved firefighter hat to his bar mitzvah. In fact, he will be wearing it when he makes his entrance into the party room.
Me: "Max, look, I got some new firefighter hats to give out. Would you like a new one for your bar mitzvah?"
Me: "OK, well, the 'Fireman Max' label on yours is kind of old and yucky. Would you like me to put on a new label?"
Max [ponders this for a few secs and then]: "No thank you!"
Although Max has been getting more adventurous in recent years—game to visit new places, try new restaurants and do new activities—he is very much a creature habit. The familiar is what's most comfortable to him. That includes belongings; he does not part easily with anything, including stuff he's used to seeing around the house. Over the years, when we've gotten everything from a new stove to a new picture for our bathroom, he's protested. Max also tends to like things just so; if a cabinet door is open, he'll close it. He leaves his school backpack in the same spot every day. He turns off his iPad after every single time he uses it.
I sometimes wonder if Max would be this way if he didn't have special needs, same as I wonder whether he would have the obsessions he's had. Then again, my father didn't have intellectual disabilities and he was the most habit-happy person I have ever known. He lived in the same apartment for decades on end, where he died. He drove the same car, a Volvo, for 23 years. He ate the same breakfast every day. He insisted that my sister and I always replace the cap on the toothpaste.
My dad was "eccentric." I kind of like that word to describe Max, come to think of it, far better than "special needs." Someone once defined Max as a "character" and I like that, too.
One thing Max has taught me, among many, is the wonders of neurodiversity. People's neurological differences deserve recognition and respect, just like other human variations. Some days, I also ponder whether Max would have the sense of humor he does if he hadn't had the stroke at birth. Or whether he'd be as observant as he is. Or have the same amazing sense of direction.
Of course, I'll never know what other kind of Max might have existed, because this is the boy that I got, and this is the boy I adore.
Sometimes, he surprises me. When I asked him again yesterday whether he'd like a new "Fireman Max" label, he said "Yes." And so, he'll be making his entrance to his party in his slightly refurbished old hat, and he will light up that room with his smile.
I'm pretty sure that, no matter what, he would have always had that smile.