April is Autism Awareness month. As one mother of an autistic daughter wrote in our local paper, “Every month” is that month
Those of us who have been blessed with these unique children are aware every day, every hour, every minute and every second that Autism is a reality.
The mother mentioned above also wrote of instances where she would be out in public with her child and others around them would think that her child was undisciplined. Those folks have no idea, that it could be worse. Instead of a child who may not be patiently waiting in line and running around at a store or restaurant, they could be witnessing a child having a meltdown which could be viewed by others at a tantrum. One day, I was in a grocery store and saw a mother with two preteen daughters walking with her while her preteen son was sitting in the shopping cart, wailing loudly. I’m sure that this mother was getting some critical looks from others for how her son was acting. When I passed her, I tried to give an understanding smile, because I was pretty sure I knew what she was dealing with.
Having a child on the spectrum has been an interesting journey. We’ve had to change some of our thinking in how we parent him.
For example: There was a 3 year period where our son would not eat anything except peanut butter sandwiches. Anytime we went to a restaurant, I had a baggie with a PB sandwich in my purse (sometimes a little squished, and he didn’t like squished) for him. I always felt that I was being viewed as playing favorites with my kids because we would order from the menu for our daughter and then pull out this squished sandwich for out son.
Another example is when we would go to a store or restaurant that, for some reason, he didn’t like. When our son was little, there was a particular grocery store that he didn’t like (but I needed to shop there, in order to save money). Every time, I would turn onto the freeway to go to that store, he’d let out a loud scream in the car. It happened every time, for months. Then one day, he stopped doing that.
When he was a toddler, he was suddenly freaked out about taking a bath. For 6 months, I bathed a screaming kid, and then as suddenly as it started, he was back to being fine and happy with bathes.
He was also prone to suddenly scream. Just a shriek. He did that in front of a friend once and she immediately said, “Um, I wouldn’t let him do that”. I really wanted to say, “Well gee, I’m sorry, he didn’t give me an itinerary as to when the screams were scheduled!”. All I could really say was that I don’t “let” it happen, but I do handle them when they do happen. For as much as he loves a predictable life, he himself can be unpredictable. Finally one day, I decided that I was no longer going to accept embarrassment or criticism for his behaviour or how we handled him because those critics were not dealing with what we were dealing with and in some cases, refused to educate themselves about autism.
He’s a teenager now. He can handle his meltdowns much better and we can tell when one is coming. Usually, if we can catch it early enough, a long hug from one of us, and talking him through it helps to keep it from escalating to something more difficult to handle.
When he draws detailed maps, hand-copied from our local phone book.
He has a different view on how things should be, such as “It should be illegal to drive when you’re a zombie” (or when you’re asleep).
He reminds us of “Sheldon Cooper” from “The Big Bang Theory” tv show in that he feels a need to have things a certain way (such as a particular spot on the couch when where are plenty of other places to sit).
We can remind him to do the dishes or sort his laundry and we receive the same line of questioning: “Will I have to do this for the rest of my life?”, “Is this a daily chore or a once a week chore?”, “Are you mad or just sounding firm?”
The kid entertains us and fascinates us daily, even when he looks at his older sister and randomly asks, “Are you glad that I’m not a boat?”.