Alex’s drawing of our house, age 3. Sideways, (sorry)
Alex, being a ‘plant person’ like mommy, drawing sketches for my plant materials lab. He was 11.
As a single mom who strives to raise two burly, curious teen boys, I have kept to mountainous, rural areas to give them space to ‘be’ autistic. Let it explain what that means if you’re a neurotypical; ’cause most of you really are in the dark about what makes us, well, ‘us’.
For someone with autism, or more specifically, Asperger’s, it is who we are. It’s like being Chinese,
Australian, African or Mexican; when someone says, “Hi, I’m from ‘x'”, there’s an understanding that occurs. Most of us are familiar with different cultures, so once we get the cue word of where that person is from, we can draw some logical conclusions about that individual, and we start to talk about topics that relate to that lifestyle.
Not so with autism. For the neurotypical (AKA someone who doesn’t have autism spectrum characteristics), trying to live with, relate to, work with, teach or other wise have a relationship with us (God forbid marry!) can seem almost impossible.
We are not like you; therefore, we are often considered, hmmm, insert your choice of – weird, dumb, defiant, geeky, stupid, unfriendly, uncaring, obstinate, distant, cold, aloof, particular, narcissistic, selfish, unrealistic, etc. Many of you call as savants. Others can’t stand that we refuse to stay in line, follow orders blindly, or stop asking questions wanting explanations about why we have to stay in a ‘box’.
Hell, many of us refuse to even get in society’s ‘box’, unless, of course, you’re going to get one of those refrigerator sized ones and play with us!
I can’t tell you HOW many times I’ve taken my kids to camps, weekend or day retreats that are FOR kids with autism spectrum and similar behavioral differences, and watched as their parents run frantically around, dragging ‘Bobby’ this way and that, chastising, correcting, and admonishing the child for being, well, ‘Bobby’. He wasn’t at the Inaugural Ball, folks; he was at a camp for his own kind, hello!
After my son was born, it didn’t take long to see (within the first two years), that he had autism. This was in 2000, when NO one was talking about it, but there was research scattered about. Because of my interest in education and love of learning, I began advocacy, and some testing with local intermediate agencies, and had some different therapists come to the house. During this period, I took him to different doctors, one of whom thought my son suffered from sensory deprivation; and, yes, he was a man, poor thing.
Never mind that I had breast fed my son until I became pregnant again, eight months after his birth, and toted him around in a banana sling during the day until he was too big to fit in it, around 6 months. I sang to him while he was in the womb, with one special song he still knows INSTANTLY at 14, and will stop the tantrum or out of control behavior, growling, “MMOoommmm,” because he’s a big boy now. I also read to both boys before they were born. However, neurotypical professionals like to treat us like we as mothers can’t possibly understand how to care for our children.
By the time he was two, Alex could not speak as other children might, and would bang his head on the floor and point or growl at things. He called horses, “hoo-hah’s”, and had a love for unicorns and horse type creatures, as well as rainbow hues, especially pinks and purples. He would scribble the most fascinating scenes, like cave drawings, on the walls and back of doors. By 3, he and his brother, 2, had their own language, and Alex began to dawdle with my art supplies. He was hooked. “Draw, draw, draw, Mommy,” point, point, pull on my clothing.
One of Alex’s creations while learning the art of claymation at the famous Penland school in the mountains of North Carolina. He was 12.
I drew murals on his walls, so many pictures of so many things…and then I taught him how to trace. Tracing at five opened up a whole new world for him, because it allowed him to find ways to ‘draw’ all manner of animals, especially birds, that his little brain couldn’t get the depth perception and spacial relations to create yet. It gave him a sense of accomplishment, and helped ease his need for perfection.
Even though Alex has perfect pitch, even though I had dreams of three children who had a little string concert trio in my house, I surrendered to what I had, two very gifted boys with extremely different interests.
Did he receive speech therapy, social skills’ group time, pre-school time, outings? Yes. There were many hellish attempts at ‘fitting in’ that were disastrous and cruel, as there was little, if any, tolerance for the ‘different’ children. We often had to stay at home in the early years. Perhaps I will share some of our stories from both boys, as well as my own experiences in future posts…
With 1 in 88 people now being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my hope today is just to open a door, if you will,
that I am begging the neurotypical parent of an autistic or behaviorally related child to consider – these children are here to change you, not you change them.
Do we need guidance, nurturing, lessons in social mores – yes. Do we sometimes need extra considerations or accommodations – definitely.
But, Please stop trying to force us to be like you.
Thank God I had a husband who was a Cancer sign. He just bought Alex stuffed unicorns, and Tonka trucks, army men and Hot Wheels. So what if Alex beat the cars with hammers until they exploded, or sat for hours watching the little wheels go round and round? He would give Alex a bear hug when he tantrumed, or wrap me up tight in his strong arms when I was in sensory overload as a ‘new’ mom. He understood how to love ‘all’ of us, even the ‘weird’ parts.
We need help finding our own way to be in this world in a way that works for us, a way that allows us to be as God intended, which means you love ALL parts that make us ‘us’, not just the parts you like. Surrender to the differences, and find the blessings and lessons that parenting us entail. You will gain invaluable gifts as a result. My life has been nothing like I envisioned, but I have been truly rewarded by the experiences. You will be, too.