In the world of Autism, we are always learning. We are learning where it comes from. We are learning about the genetic component. We are learning about the various forms it comes in. As a parent, we are learning as well. I realize that parents have to learn on the job. We usually have a bit of a basis to work from having been kids ourselves and hopefully paying a bit of attention to what our parents did, for better or worse. However, what do you do when you have a child with special needs ? What basis do you draw from ? And how steep is the damn learning curve anyway.
My boy is 13 now. If we were Jewish, he would be considered a man and Mazel Tov ! Being Christian there is no special Bar Mitzvah to celebrate this milestone in to manhood. There is basically a slap on the back and a look we got you this far without killing you – yeah ! Seeing how most men don’t mature beyond 13, I’m not sure why we continue to celebrate birthdays. The only difference after 13 is once they hit 19 they can be gangly, show poor judgement, give in to hormones AND drive a car AND drink alcohol. Excellent as Mr. Burns would say…
With Aspergers kids there is another little twist. They don’t mature socially like neuro typical kids do. Most of them do it a little slower. They also find transitioning and change uncomfortable which can then in turn lead to stronger perseverations to soothe the anxiety which accompanies the inevitable ebb and flow of life. My boy is not embracing the whole teenage experience. At all. There is no ebb. There is no flow. Other than boobs – he is embracing boobs. So we have that at least to cling to. He is stuck right now. He is stuck being 9. He is stuck in things he enjoyed being 9. And I don’t know how to help him move beyond that.
Physically he is 13 complete with gangly arms and legs, bobbing voice and things that pop up in the morning that don’t involve a toaster. This is good. At least we don’t have physical maturity to worry about. But he can’t relate to boys his age. He doesn’t know how to talk to them. He can’t figure out how to engage them in what he likes to do. Because what he likes to do involves being 9. He’s like that awkward kid at the school dance who circulates looking for someone to share Stairway to Heaven with except my son isn’t looking for a date – he just wants friends.
We had an “episode” on Sunday morning that involved my son and his father and some loud voices. My boy got it in to his head to build a playground in the back yard. But for very small people. People half his size. I have to give him creative props for how he did it except the big holes he dug in the lawn to make sure the swingset he made didn’t fall over. This prompted some unhappiness for my husband and I as I had told the boy that digging was not allowed. Apparently he disagreed, went temporarily deaf, got amnesia or just plain ignored me. This was not to his benefit. My husband’s question – Why can’t you do what other 13 year old boys do ?? A good question.
My son doesn’t do what other 13 year old boys do because he has no idea what other 13 year old boys do. He cannot pick up their social cues. He does not pay attention to what they are talking about unless it interests him. He is unable to socially interact with boys his own age because he finds it exhausting and unsettling to try and figure out what is going on. I can sympathize. I go through the same thing myself. Large events wear me out. After a party or a conference or a dinner, when everyone else is ready to keep on going, I head for my room. I am done. I am fried. Stick a fork in me I am roasted. Keeping my filter up and my attention focused and my fidgets under control and screening out all the noise just does me in. So I shared that with my son and his eyes just about fell out of his head. I think we had a moment but my mind might have wandered.
My husbands’ question got me to thinking: does Thomas even know what other 13 year old boys do ? His only friend is a little off the beam as well so I theorized that maybe he doesn’t have a clue. So I had him take a seat and asked him – What do you think 13 year old boys do ? His answer: I have no darn clue Mom. Hmmm said I. Houston – we have a problem.
As we continued our discussion, it appears that despite being involved in Scouting, despite exposure to friends kids, despite exposure at school, my son has no idea what it takes to make friends his age. Despite social stories and interventions by the Special Resource department and education from his parents, we are no closer to him making friends close to his age. Despite all our best intentions and changing schools and providing opportunities to socialize, he still has no clue how to relate to kids his own age. What is a parent to do ?
Well this parent tends to go all war-pathy. I know this isn’t a word but it’s my blog and it fits. I tend to pull in all forces, glean what information I need and in turn get my son what he needs. Think the movie John Q without the sniper. Seeing how we are now one year from highschool where he will have no protection, apparently we need to work on this social skills thing and pronto. So I’ve contacted his teacher and will dig up the people at the local Autism society to get my son what he needs. My hope is at the end, he will feel more comfortable handling the banter that boys engage in. He will be more able to see outside his world and let others in to his space.
Some of you might be asking, Well why doesn’t the dad do something ? The dad, my friends, is an excellent dad. He is head and shoulders above most of the dads I know. He is involved. He is caring. He is supportive. In short, I couldn’t have picked a better sperm donor if I’d read the catalogue. I am grateful that I married a man who is such a great dad.
However – he was a shit of a teenager. All anger and attitude and bad coping skills. He got up to shennanigans that make me look like Mother Theresa. He grew up in a dysfunctional home with an absentee father and a unique mother. Needless to say, I would like to claim a bit of the wondefulness he has become and will give props to my mom as well. He thought his life was normal until he met us. Now we aren’t exactly The Cleaver’s either but even so.
It is for this reason that I will turn to others to help my son. We will both be there to support him. We will both be there to help him. We will both be there as he grows and changes. If he can become 1/2 the man his father has become, my job will be a success. Now to get him to that point without duct taping him to a sea worthy craft and setting him adrift ? That will definitely require some outside assistance. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I’m putting the call out to the whole damn world.