Autism Watch: 2007

Posts Tagged ‘family

Yesterday, my husband talked to someone who said “Oh, and tell <our daughter> hi from us!”

Last week, someone said “And how’s <our daughter> doing? And xxx and xxx?” (XXX would be our older kids.)

Family isn’t immune — “Can <our daughter> come to the beach with us?”

We answer their sentence, then say “And BB is doing great…” I sometimes add “Thanks for asking!”

Apparently it’s not an acceptable answer — I’m supposed to just ignore the fact that they ignore him. My “Thanks for asking” comment is usually met with silence.

It’s like autism makes my son the invisible boy until we bring him up.

I realize that sometimes people don’t know what to say. You want to be careful not to say the wrong thing, so you opt not to say anything. But if you recognize yourself as doing this — I think we all have situations where we are at a loss for words — at least say “How’s <BB> doing?” You don’t have to specify, you just need to ask how he/she is doing. It means everything to us when our child is seen as just as good as everyone else’s child. Because he is. We all like to think our kids are the cutest, the sweetest, the smartest, the best..problem is, we all think that way, and a smart parent will realize that.

Autism doesn’t mean my son is dumb. In fact, quite the contrary, he’s incredibly gifted and working at an academic level years beyond his age.

Autism doesn’t mean my son is unaware of what’s going on around him. He’s surprisingly adept at listening to conversations while still focusing on writing HTML for a game he’s designing. He can hear a song once, while playing a game, and repeat it note for note, word for word, weeks later, without ever hearing it again.

Autism doesn’t mean my son is unable to do something outside of his scope of interest. Just like any other child, he’s got a lot of abilities but chooses what he wants to do. In fact, he’s probably more in tune with his interests and abilities than people without autism.

Autism doesn’t affect his hearing. He can still hear you when you let your child get away with calling him a name or when you whisper “It’s okay, go do your thing, BB will be fine on his own.” Again.

Autism doesn’t render him incapable of comprehending your speech. He knows what your words mean. He knows what it means when you say “I’m not going to keep coming to visit you if you don’t hug me.”

(Something I want to point out: that won’t make BB or any other child with autism want to hug you.)

Just because you don’t understand a child with autism or you don’t want to understand a child with autism doesn’t give you the right to be mean. Because that’s what it is: being mean. Ignoring a child for behavior he can’t control is like refusing to help push a wheelchair uphill when the person is a paraplegic, and who would do that?

Next time you deal with a family with a child with autism, ask about the child. Even if you have to fake it, ask. And if you have to fake it, maybe it’s time to re-examine why you feel that way — why does it bug you so much to acknowledge that this family is dealing with a child with special needs? Do you have to agree with everything someone does to like them? No, so why is a child with autism-related behaviors any different? Maybe it’s time to stop letting your personal feelings get in the way and just be the friend, the Godmother, the cousin, the aunt, the grandfather. That means loving the child for whomever he is and overlooking the rest, even if you don’t agree with the way the mom and dad parent him. Love him and respect him, just like you would any other child.

It really is that simple.

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Recently, I had a discussion with someone about how my advocacy style was so different from hers. She’s gung-ho about telling everyone she meets about autism, blogs about it frequently and does it without the protection of anonymity, and most conversations end up including autism to some extent. Me, on the other hand, I don’t mention it so much. Not only does my husband not care for it when I tell a random stranger, even for the purposes of perhaps helping one more person understand our kids, but I am tired of getting the ‘huh? uhm, yeah, okay’ response. I blog with anonymity, referring to my beautiful son as Barnacle Boy, a childhood nickname due to his attachment to me (still) and don’t want him ever reading this when he grows up. I also don’t want the people that I run into to feel like they aren’t going to be open with me for fear of showing up in my blog someday. (I know people who’ve found themselves the subject of a negative blog entry or comment, and being the social outcasts we autism moms already frequently are, why up the number of people who don’t know how to talk to us?) I also try to not include autism in every conversation — let’s face it, after almost seven years of a diagnosis, my friends know what life is like, they understand when I’ve had a bad day, and I only need a few words to convey what’s really going on. Saying “school called again” with a sigh is enough. Or just saying “it’s been a long day” suffices. They get it.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I’m not immersed in treatment 24/7 right now. I used to be. I had to be. My BB would bang his head on the floor in pain and/or anger and frustration, and he’d pull out his eyelashes. He’d bite himself, and us, tags and normal clothing textures made it hard for him to get dressed — and stay that way — and crying babies would throw him into a tailspin. His communication skills were off, he had no eye-contact, and the random stranger touch freaked him out. And then there’s the running away, the sensory issues, the other behavioral issues, and the social skill deficits. In many, many ways, there’s been vast improvement. Most people would look at him now and wonder why we’re so worried. But those would be people who didn’t see where we’ve been. They didn’t see us with bitemarks and bags around our eyes from lack of sleep or worry. They didn’t have to sit with us through a blood test to check his blood sugar level that was too high during last month’s physical (which was a wreck itself, because he hates being touched by strangers and of course, the doctor wants him to be almost completely undressed and that doesn’t fly with BB) nor go with us to the dentist, which was only two months ago that we had to switch because he bit the guy and caused him to novocaine his own hand.

But we know. And that’s why I continue to advocate, but in my own way. I focus on educating those that have direct interaction with BB, or those that ask me because they want to know more or know another family dealing with autism. I still throw out info to the random stranger sporadically, but I figure that unless there’s a reason, I don’t need to necessarily give them our story when I don’t know what they’re dealing with at home. Years ago, a woman felt the need to chastise me in public for telling my kids, while I was writing a check in a crowded store, to quiet down.  “You are so blessed to have them, you should remember that.” Uhm, okay? “Yes, I am blessed, I know that because of fertility issues that required a lot of fight to get my family size to where it is today, which isn’t your business anymore than telling me to not tell them to quiet down. Thanks and have a nice day!” Moral of that story? You never know what that other person already has dealt with, or is dealing with, so pick and choose who you give the autism story to. My feelings are that advocacy is most successful when used judiciously. Sometimes we are advocating for ourselves — it makes us feel better, but just makes the other person feel worse, and it is no longer advocacy.

My goal is to advocate for my son in a way that helps him, and the autism population at large, but without constant intrusion or sounding like a broken record. I have three other children, a full-time job, and a husband. I only have so much time and energy to go around, and for my sanity, I need to move on to other topics. My friends need me to move onto other topics. They need my listening ear, and to do that properly, I need to be able to focus on them; the time will come when I need them, again, and the friendships I’ve kept while on this autism rollercoaster are more valuable to me than I can possibly ever convey to them. The few strong solid friends who I will call friends forever are worth more to me than the many that I lost because they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get through a five-minute phonecall without hearing BB cry or get upset in the background; they couldn’t deal with my being unable to go out to their house without BB having a meltdown or they’d get freaked out when he’d hide under a table; they couldn’t risk their child having to witness mine crying because he was again left out of a game or because I wouldn’t let the other kids call him names; mainly, they refused to understand autism and my son’s odd professorial-type of vocabulary fooled them into thinking he was just a brat and we were bad parents, with the fact that we had three other children, all older, who weren’t ‘brats.’ The list goes on, and there are times I wish I could really give those people a trip through time to show them what life was like, what we’ve been through, and most of all, what my amazing brilliant son has gone through, and how far he has come.

Our children are the epitomy of courage. They don’t give up. They are examples and should be seen as the brave people they are and that’s where I want to focus my advocacy efforts for now. I don’t want to raise money to go in some administrator’s pocket or tell me what gene my son has that’s not right, nor tell me some other reason why it’s my fault he has autism. Sure, I want to know the reason so we can prevent other families from going through this, but I also think money rarely goes to the families who need it the most — those dealing with it now. One-income, two-income, ‘rich,’ poor, it doesn’t matter. It’s too hard to get help, and as a result, we learn to do it ourselves, and that’s advocating for our child in a way no one else can do anyway. So even when we’re not publicly advocating, we’re privately advocating, and that’s enough for me.

 

Today little dude had what is hopefully his last ‘work’ appointment…you know, where work outside of the normal cleaning and checkup gets done. I had to do this one on my own, since I “HAD THE DAY OFF.” Notice those words in caps –  apparently they mean that today is just a fun day, you know, where you have fun all day long and nothing makes you tired or keeps you busy. But anyway, dh didn’t have the day off and we figured since this wasn’t a root canal, I was good to go handling it on my own. Sounds good in theory, right?

Happily, this is a situation where the theory was in keeping with the reality. Barnacle Boy laid down, let the nitrous do its thing, and cracked us all up, even throughout the novocaine shots around the two teeth that were being filled. He even told the dental assistant she was sort of pretty, then said “I can’t believe I just said that.” His speech went really quick, he was thinking fast and the filter was entirely 100% off. SO cute.

(If you don’t believe in using nitrous on your autistic child, I respect that decision but understand that we chose to use the nitrous for our own reasons, so please respect your decision as well, without the assumption that we aren’t educated or didn’t research. Thank you. And if you don’t care what I do, kudos, and I apologize for the off-topic interruption!)

Once we got home, BB laid around for all of an hour, devoured a big bowl of vanilla ice cream, then literally ran off to make animated cartoons on his computer. He just finished dinner with us, where he ate an entire turkey bratwurst and a handful of tater tots. Now he’s back upstairs animating. A new hobby!

In a few months, when we move, we’ll have to choose a new dentist. Not necessarily looking forward to it, though our current dentist has offered to refer us to dentists in our new area and fwd on records. We’ve learned that when you choose a dentist, ask a lot of questions. Decide what you’re comfortable with and what you can’t live with. Check out not only if they accept your insurance, but try to gauge how willing they are to work with them on your behalf. Add in autism and you have to find out what accommodations they’ll make, how quiet/loud the office is, how trained the staff is to work with us, and even things like wait time. I’m tired just thinking about it..and I have to do this with a pediatrician, a neurologist, a family practitioner and the dentist.

 


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  • Kim: amen!!!!!!!! Thank you.------ Mom of 5 year old verbal (with speech apraxia), self injurious autistic son.
  • Emily: Thank you so much. I share your pain and am glad to know I'm not alone in my struggles with my very verbal autistic spectrum son.
  • Meet Julia, an Autistic Girl in a Sesame Street world | American Badass Activists: […] Apocalypse. That, or demonized in news and online rants, especially after a campus mass murder or a plane-halting meltdown . . . . So this b
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