This is my baby…my first born…my challenge…the light that made me decide I liked being a mother. I know, he doesn’t look like a baby in this picture. He isn’t. He is now a grown man with plans, and hopes, and dreams. He is an Eagle Scout. He is a college student. He is a boyfriend. He still challenges me. He also has Asperger’s Syndrome.
When Jack was little, there was no doubt that there was something different about him. He was so smart, with an amazing vocabulary. He understood things well beyond his years. He picked up on nuances of noise, light, and movement that we didn’t even notice. Even as a small child, he only wanted one or two friends. Everything was so black and white to him. You were either his friend…or his enemy. There was no in between. He made us laugh and sometimes his brutal honesty made me cry.
When he started school, the teachers often had trouble with him. Another child tapping their pencil would drive him up a wall. A buzzing light would render his brain unable to do his math. In one unforgettable event, after reading the word “beep” in a children’s book, he “beeped” at his teacher all day. She was not pleased. She was frustrated.
Each September, his teachers would tell us he had ADHD “or something” and that we should have him tested. We talked to doctors. He didn’t fit that profile. So, each and every year, I would say to his teachers “Please wait until Christmas and then get back to me. If you still think he has ADHD I will follow-up again.”. Each and every December, they would tell me they really didn’t think that “was it”, but there was “something wrong with him.”
Later, making friends was hard for him. He would have one or two friends who he would get close to, but so many people in his life shied away from him. He stayed smart. He tried. But, he said he was bored. He said he didn’t understand what people were saying, he said no one liked him, he said he wanted to die.
Yes…he said he wanted to die. He was 12.
The next day, we went to the doctor. He referred us to a counselor. That counselor was the first person who said, “I think your child should be tested for Asperger’s”. We did. It fit. I spent a great many days feeling sorry for myself, sorry for him, and a little mad at the world. Then, I put on my work boots and got about the business of making this work.
There were drugs suggested to tame his impulses. I declined. I didn’t want to give this 12 year old child a cocktail of chemicals. I wanted to figure out another way. I HAD to help…this was MY job. So, I researched..and researched…and researched.
And, then, I got mad.
Everything I found went on and on about the “problems” with Asperger’s kids. No one said anything about their intellect, their honesty, their incredible desire and profound creative talents. No one mentioned their sense of responsibility, their loyalty, or their desire for safety. Had they met these kids? Did they care? And worse, did these children BELIEVE that they were nothing but a problem?
So, we attacked this a different way. We put routines into place. Many, many routines. We sat down to dinner and talked. We asked questions, we required socialization. We required eye contact. We expected our child to be who he was, but to be able to work within the parameters of the rest of the world. We rewarded good behavior and dealt with bad, just like any other parent.We looked at the chemicals in our home, the dye in our foods, and everything in between. We cooked more together. We ate more together. We took every possible avenue to make his life easier…but, not too easy. We knew, someday, he would have to be out in this big world alone. Without us. Without excuses.
We sat in classrooms. We sat outside classrooms. We got called to the principal. We rode out suspensions, restrictions, and issues. We followed up. we followed through, and we followed our hearts. We didn’t stop hoping, and dreaming, and believing that it was possible to have a wonderful, successful life with Asperger’s.
When we heard he was not “smart” or that he could not do something, we called his bluff. “Your brain processes things faster…that is not an excuse.” We said this over and over again. We never let ANYONE dumb things down. This child was smart. As smart, or smarter, than those around him. We asked teachers to challenge him more. He rose to most challenges. He never did anything to please anyone else. For him, success would never be measured by a number on a test, but it COULD be measured by success and achieving your dreams.
We challenged him to try new things. We white-water rafted, rode horses, climbed rocks, met new people. We moved him around every three years in our military lifestyle. He became an Eagle Scout, he graduated High School, he found a girl he loves, he went to college, he learned to challenge himself.
Did we “cure” him? Nope. Do we want to? Nope.
Sometimes, you are who you are. Sometimes, other people need to be OK with that. He doesn’t have a million friends. Some people drive him crazy. But, he has dreams. He has plans. He is planning for his future. He is excited about what is to come.
As a mother, I learned patience. I learned the importance of reliability and routine. I learned to let go of things that don’t matter. I learned to fight for what I needed to fight for. I also learned to write an AWESOME beginning of the year letter to teachers. He taught me each and every day.Were there struggles? Yes. Are there still struggles? Yes.
If you are a parent with a child with an autism diagnosis, don’t read the websites and lose hope. Embrace your child, embrace the differences. Learn to see the light. It’s there.
My child is grown. He is now an amazing big brother who we only see at the holidays. He is busy starting his own life. Isn’t that what ANY mother wants? Does it matter that he is “different”?
Not one tiny bit.