Autism Watch: 2007

House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

Posted on: April 14, 2010

I was recently lent this book by someone in the education field, someone who I was really pleased to meet and am very thankful for, and I’ve only known her a couple of days. She lent me this book within minutes of meeting me, a Southern sense of generosity I am quickly growing to love and appreciate, and hoping to emulate.  Not only am I excited because I haven’t had a good book to read in months (due to the move) but I love Jodi Picoult books, and this book is right down my alley of interest because its focus is on a family dealing with Aspergers, a mild form of autism. (Though I hate to use the word “mild,” because even the mildest of autism labels on a bad day can be devastating.)

Since the move, my back has been acting up — I guess herniated and bulging discs tend to not improve when you sit in a car driving for ten hours a day — and I’ve had to take pain meds for my migraines twice. Not a great track record for being here less than two weeks, and I hate to look like a wimp to people who haven’t been around me 24/7 for long. I’m also plain out tired much more frequently than normal. (I had high hopes of staying up till 10pm at least, get things done, just hang out with my husband, blog, you know, all that romantic stuff. Ha.) A book is the perfect thing to add in when I’m not as agile as I’d like to be and I’m tired, though I hate to be tired. It wastes my time. Then again, maybe it’s a sign to chill out, slow down, and enjoy what’s happening right now, this process of starting over, to remember it, to live it, and to enjoy it. To be philosophical when I’m normally not, by remembering life isn’t just about achieving your goals, but the steps you take to get there.

While I’m only about ten pages into the book, I am sucked in. Jodi does an amazing job of portraying real-life Aspergers/autism — she gets it. She thanks a large group of people for helping her, and I thank them for sharing their very personal details, but I also thank Jodi moreso for wording it in a way that’s believable and will help the general public understand what we go through. The meltdowns in public for tiny things. The stares that burn you despite years of practice ignoring them. The need for routine and the critical effort we parents put forward to focus on the big issues and let the little ones slide as necessary. Within the first two pages of text, I found so many of the little things that we deal with daily, put in print where I could read to my husband and say “WOW. Someone GETS it. Now others will GET it.”

I have to admit to some guilt when I read a chapter from the brother’s perspective. I’ve always felt my other children get short shrift at times, but what do you do? You have only two arms and can only be in one place at a time. When one child’s huddled on the floor shrieking, you can’t lift him up and throw him into a car, buckle him in, and safely drive to a DMV driver’s license appointment. You want to listen to your other child and give them the time they need and deserve, but you’re mentally drained from forcing your ASD child to go to school. You feel guilty that you can’t do it all, but you feel guilty for thinking anything that even slightly, and only to yourself, implies that you would begrudge your ASD child every ounce of energy needed to improve or even just get by. Guilt, it’s all around if you let it in.

I hope to read some from Jacob’s perspective soon. The autistic mind fascinates me, and any little bit of understanding I can gain will only benefit us, even if I don’t like what I hear. I am thankful I am not going this alone, as the mom in “House Rules” is, but I am impressed with her outlook and her realistic struggle to do it all, and do it all right, while accepting that she can’t.

I hope to dive in and read another 100 pages or so this evening, though I don’t want to be rude and hide in the bedroom again, as I’ve had to do a few times for either a backache or a headache. Me, the runner, avid exercise enthusiast, wannabe personal trainer and health nut, dealing with health issues when I least have the time for them. There’s work, my son, my other kids, my husband, the animals, and so many other things I want to do — we gardened (planted potatoes, a variety of peppers, beans, etc.), we swung at some golf balls, we talk, and we just plain out live. In California, we ran from one thing to another, only really kicking back to watched Tivo’d shows together, a Nascar race, or visit friends. Then there were the innumerable errands to Target, Kohl’s, Gamestop, and of course, Starbucks. Relaxing and ‘living’ occurred between all the ‘have to’ events. Strangely enough, I don’t miss any of that. I have replaced the extra expenditures with a cup of coffee enjoyed while watching BB chase his dog around the backyard. I have replaced the need for more clothes by wearing the same tank top twice in 10 days — gasp! It’s possible! Only the family sees me anyway, and there’s a strange joy in saving money. Who knew. (And having an unemployed husband will also make that easier…though that’s not for long. He’s having a really hard time not working, he’s the kind who can’t sit still and must be productive and active all day, every day, but he’s enjoying handling school issues and dropoffs/pickups. He found he enjoys mowing and tilling a garden, and bringing me another cup of coffee. And I’m enjoying having him around more.)

To the family of Nadia, the little girl with autism who was recently found after being missing for 4-5 days, God bless you. We breathed a sigh of relief when we heard you were safe and surrounded by those who love you. May your family and you get the privacy you need to recoup. Another miracle occurred, and she’s home.

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