April is Autism Awareness month. I thought maybe it was time I came out, as a parent with a child on the Autistic Spectrum. Tell my story.
Oh boy, so where do I start? Do I start when he was two, and hyper obsessed about fans, or pedestrian walking signs and signals? Or the part where my sister-in-law, who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, pointed out that my son exhibited certain behaviors similar to her own son’s, and that he might be on the Autism Spectrum as well? I could even start when he was in grade one and was having meltdowns in class.
I know, I’ll start at my denial. That seems to be the best place to start. Oh yes, denial. I held on to it for so, so long because there could never be anything wrong with my child. There is no way he can have Asperger’s Syndrome. Oh hell no. I even fought my husband on this issue. There was nothing wrong with my child!
Then there is the guilt. The guilt that I felt because I must be the one screwing up. Maybe it was my fault he is the way he is? Maybe I’ve been too hard on him? Maybe if I hadn’t yelled at him? Oh the guilt. Now let’s add the frustration. Why wasn’t he grasping certain concepts? Why wasn’t he learning? Any other kid would know this or that by now! Now go back to the guilt. The guilt for being so frustrated at this boy, for yelling, then back to frustration for not knowing what to do. A vicious cycle.
When the meltdowns started happening at school, I knew I couldn’t be in denial any more. There was something there. I wasn’t sure what exactly, but I had to look at it. He needed more than I was able to give him because I didn’t have the skills. We both needed help. It was at that point Chris and I decided to get a diagnosis. The waiting list was long to get an Autism diagnosis. In the meantime, we got him diagnosed for ADD. The specialist we saw confirmed that he didn’t have it, but then that meant one thing. We just had to wait. The wait seemed like forever. Especially when there were meltdowns, and behaviors that we needed help with. Thankfully we had a great teacher who was willing to work with us. He wasn’t worried about his academic career but his well being. Thank goodness for teachers like him. Thank freaking goodness! We were lucky enough to have this teacher for two years in a row. He even emailed us over the summer to tell us he was reading about our son’s special needs.
Finally, we got the diagnosis. It was very hard to hear, but it was a relief at the same time. The only way I can explain it is this:
When you become a parent, you parent the only way you know how. With “neuro-typical” kids usually it works. Or you at least hope it’s working. As a parents we don’t usually come with the skill set to deal with what Autism throws at you. So you just keep parenting the best you can, until the diagnosis comes in and get help. But in that time you’ve dug yourself into a trench with no way out. You’re muddy, tired, exhausted, and feeling slightly insane. When that diagnosis comes, it’s like a ladder appearing in the trench you’ve dug yourself into. You climb out, and it’s then you can finally see the road laid out in front of you. You know what direction you now need to go. The road is long, with bumps and some smooth parts; and it’s going to take one small step at a time to get through it, but you’re no longer stuck.
This is pretty much how I felt. I did what I could before. Listened to advice from friendly Moms and other parents who had the best intentions. Bought stupid fucking books on how to deal with certain behaviors, also suggested by a friendly Mom. (I mean really who wants to read a fucking novel sized book on how to “better parent”?!)
With finally knowing my son has Asperger’s, I learned what was causing certain behaviors. I can now finally pick up on his sensory issues and what may set him off. I now know that he can’t always express himself the way he needs to, and that it’s not always appropriate. But now we can help him to learn those skills. I also know that his meltdowns over clothes were due to sensory issues. I no longer wonder why he certain tasks are hard for him. I’ve also learned to let some things go. Not to sweat the small stuff. Life is one day at a time. Some days it’s one hour at a time. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. I appreciate the days when meltdowns are few and we can actually get out of the house on time, or go somewhere without there being major issues.
The one very important thing I’ve also learned is that Autism doesn’t define him, or will it determine who he is going to be. I love my son with everything I have. And he is not all meltdowns and obsessiveness. He’s funny, quick-witted and can make people laugh and fall in love him. (He’s sometimes like his mother, lacking a filter.) I’m lucky he’s mine.