My Autistic Son


Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. – Romans 12:12

Ten months ago, five years after he was diagnosed as a “spectrum” kid, I faced my worst fear to date about one of my children – that he was different. What’s wrong with being different in an American culture that spreads cheer about being unlike others?

It’s “ok” to be trans, gay, and even criminal. But it’s not ok to sport bald patches on your head from pulling your hair out. Cutting next? Or just a destroyed head of beautiful, thick hair?

It’s not ok talk in incomplete sentences, miles off topic, when only one or two people in your life can understand what you mean or what you say.

It’s not ok for a boy to cry at age 11, at the drop of the hat. Not just because of fear, but sometimes because of disappointment.

It’s not ok to have a wildly inappropriate reaction to minor things that most kids would brush off, or even sulk about for a bit, and then move on from.

It’s not ok. It’s really, really not. I fought this for years because I convinced myself that all the weird things about him would sort themselves out. Why? Because I had also convinced myself that it was all my fault, and if I would just straighten up and fly right, all would fall into place. Perfectly. Or at least well.

So, ten months ago, it hit me like a freight train, and my anxiety over his future has skyrocketed ever since. And nine months ago, my husband and I pulled him out of public school. Forever.

And now I am a STAHM, wife, and full-time fifth grade teacher. To one student. And I too want to rip my own hair out of my head. Frequently.

I push, push, push – and he pulls, pulls, pulls that hair out. And it’s easy to blame it on the ex-husband, his new wife (oh, so easy to blame her), their insane young twins, or even the ebb and flow of the tides. But the truth is, that kid spends more time with his mother than his biological father. So I better get it together.

I have been expecting results from an autistic son with slow processing issues, and I don’t mean realistic results. I mean grade-level results, which is completely ridiculous on so many levels. I’ll give you one: he’s supposed to be in sixth grade. He was held back in kindergarten. He can’t do sixth-grade stuff; he can barely manage fifth. We’re both frustrated and sad and overwhelmed.

I was reading home life this morning and something caught my eye, which then made me roll them. It’s an article about students with learning disabilities, and shows tips on how to make their brick-and-mortar classroom life more manageable.

Truly, it could apply to homeschool kids like mine, kids who are slow (but smart), creative (and not always on task because of it), misunderstood (but amazing), and goes against the grain of every single thing public school teachers had recommended I do for years. Some samples are the following:

“Simplify directions.” – As many times as I have given this child multi-step directions (as his teachers told me to), he got them wrong. Every single time!

“Accept short-answer responses instead of complete sentences.” – Are you serious? How is he going to compete with his classmates? And then I read a sample of their work on a discussion forum my son had to enter for a grade. He wrote better than many of his peers. In complete sentences. With big vocabulary words. The reason? It was fun. So I know he can do it. I just need to pick my battles. I think.

Here’s one that boggles my mind, though – avoid activities that are competitive. What? He’s a boy! And his mother is super-competitive! We tried soccer for about a year. He loved it at first, and then hated it because it made him feel bad about himself. He didn’t understand the game, really – it’s hard to teach it to a child who processes things too slowly. Sports move fast. He thought he was supposed to score every game.

Now he is learning tennis. And he’s thrilled! Everything about it is fun. Even the matches don’t feel competitive to him. So maybe this advice was good too.

I don’t have all the answers. And yes, the stress level is high. I’m a type-A neat freak who likes to have all things done my way. I am impatient and my expectations are far too out of whack to be effective at teaching this amazing child – a lot of the time. I have to rope my husband and both sons into cleaning part of the house each week because I just don’t have enough hours in the day, and I intensely miss those hours when both kids were at school. It was quiet, peaceful, and I could get everything done. That includes writing. I’m trying to finish my second novel and am so behind, it won’t be ready by Christmas (barring a miracle.) Sigh.

You want to know what bothers me the most, though? Here it is, and I’ve hardly mentioned it to anyone – I can’t blame autism and learning disabilities on his biological father. I can only blame them on myself. And I just figured that out – about a week ago.

Once again, I was just hit out of the blue by that freight train. All the things that frustrate me about my son are things that I did at his age. I passed those on, not his bio dad. I did that. I created a baby that grew up to become just like me when I was 11. It sucks so bad I cannot even describe it.

The good news is that I am a college-educated writer. I struggled with math, that’s true – but I got a diploma. I was able to learn and grew to love it. I still do.

There’s that fear, though, that maybe all that was just a fluke, or that he’s worse off than I was. I know that I’m taking the right steps at the moment – homeschooling him was the best thing for him. It’s shown me, though, how incredibly far behind he is. I would never have known it from the cheerful teacher conferences where I asked the right questions and got the “right” answers. Or maybe public school teachers just have that playbook to follow because there’s nothing else that can be done. Bull! It’s true that he had forgotten how to learn, that he didn’t understand participating in class, and that his test-taking abilities were spotty.

It’s also true that he is able to learn (now), he loves participating in on-line lessons with his peers, and that test-taking is still hard for him (but he’s improving).

A few days ago, we were studying the American Indians. He is fascinated, just like I was at his age. He wasn’t so great at picking up all the facts from the lesson, but he was listening to every word I said. How do I know? Because when I explained the difference between an Indian hunting buffalo and a white man hunting buffalo, he was very quiet. Later, as we went over the material (again), he repeated everything I said about that.

Some of you have autistic children who are far worse off than mine. My kudos to you! It’s a rough road, and if it were any harder I don’t know how I could handle it. Then again, we’re moms – when it gets tough, the good ones roll up their sleeves, down some serious caffeine, and handle their business.

Keep trying! Your children are worth your best effort, and they’ll forgive you for your worst efforts as long as they know one thing – that you love them and will fight for them. Forever. Every day. No matter how infuriated you get, how frustrated they get with you, or how hopeless it seems at times.

Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God,and once again I will praise him,my savior and my God.– Psalm 43:5

His answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me.– 2 Corinthians 12:9

But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles;they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.– Isaiah 40:31

 

 

 

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