Every few years I undergo a relatively drastic hairstyle change. Sometimes it is circumstantial: I am experiencing major changes in some other area of my life, and my hairstyle change is symbolic of that. At other times it’s because my hair is down to my lower back, and it’s just too much work at that length! Off with it!

Last week my hair was reaching beyond the middle of my back, the sun was out, and I had it cut. I think this time it was as much because it was too long as it was a metaphor for the changes going on in my life. I came to the realization a few months ago that Nigel can no longer be mainstreamed, as he was (with an extensive support system) for four years. I radically altered my life, my schedule, my finances, and my ideas so that I could wrap my mind around the concept of homeschooling him, and found ways to make it happen. (I plan to write about that subject in detail for a future post.) And now I am doing it. I drastically cut back on my hours in the office at my job, I found some work I can do from home, and I am now my son’s teacher.

It was a huge change, and I am still reeling from it, even though it is positive. It is scary financially, since I am a single parent. And it comes with so many other adjustments that must be made: emotional, physical, social. So when I’m at the hair salon, and the other patrons and stylists who witness my middle-of-the-back hair being cut into a chin-length shattered bob comment on how brave I am to do that, I say It’s only hair.

Getting my hair cut short doesn’t make me brave. Being a single parent? Sometimes brave. Raising a child with autism? Usually. Homeschooling my autistic son while being a single parent? Reducing my work hours from 30 hours a week to 6, thus reducing my income?

And then I think of Nigel, trying to navigate middle school without any support system in place (how could I have let the IEP ‘team’ convince me that he would be fine with that?!) and dealing with the constant harassment and bullying he experienced, just trying to get through his day, pulling out his hair because of the eternal state of anxiety he was in, and I know. He is the brave one. He was brave to make that first leap to try to learn to talk by repeating lines from videos, trying to fit the lines within the context of the real situation. He was brave to learn how to filter all the mechanical sounds that were agonizing to him. He was brave to want to take the regular school bus, because he wanted “to be like everybody else.” That’s all he wanted, and they treated him so terribly. Yet he went back, every day, and he always tried so hard. Finally, he reached his limit, and he begged me to homeschool him. That was brave too.

Maybe the little things like getting my hair cut short are brave. But when you live with autism, it puts a different perspective on things. And it makes you define bravery in a whole new way.