Don’t know what to call this post – down the rabbit hole and tales from the socially awkward both seem a little appropriate…very few of you will probably reach the end of this particular post but for those that do…Thanks!
So. Autism awareness day is upon us. Many of you know that my son is on the Autism Spectrum. There was a time when he would have been labeled with Aspergers but these days they just call it ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I think Autism, especially – maybe or maybe not – high-functioning Autistics are hard for people to understand. Because they are high-functioning they are often in “normal” schools. They often don’t have overly obvious “quirks” or “ticks” They can seem so “NORMAL”.
BUT they are also heartbreakingly socially challenged.
The lessons you learn as a child – he isn’t learning at the same rate or at the same time. So when you hit 3rd grade and “social groups” start to form and the “different” start to be bullied and the boys and girls go through a period of not like each other….all that is “normal” for most. But Aidan was the different one. Aidan doesn’t tease or bully – you know why? Teasing isn’t nice. He says “I don’t like it when someone teases me, why on earth would I do it to someone else….Why am I teased all the time?” Boys and girls not liking each other because they go through that cootie faze – he doesn’t get it…at all. He referred to himself as Switzerland. He never stopped playing with the girls – or the boys – he refused to choose.
I have heard…
Your son is so smart (translation, he thinks he knows everything). Side note: hehehe, maybe not everything but probably more than you…#@#$#
Your son expresses himself so eloquently (translation, my son/daughter doesn’t understand half of what he says)
Your son has such a vivid imagination (translation, maybe consider a psychologist)
Your son has an old soul (translation, your son doesn’t fit in)
Your son is so reserved (translation, your son doesn’t interact with others)
Your son is so sensitive (translation, your son overreacts)
The thing is – those statements (before translation) taken at word value alone are…kind of nice…but like my husband an I tell our son you don’t just express yourself with words but with the tone you deliver those words in and with the body language that accompanies those words.
Yes. Aidan is smart. No doubt. He is what they call a fast processor which means basically that he can read a book, watch a movie and have a full and engaged conversation at the same time. And he doesn’t miss a second of any of those things. Also means he is easily bored and to have what would be considered a normal conversation he needs extra stimuli so it will seem like he isn’t really paying any attention to you even though he is absorbing every word…unless he is talking about something HE is really interested in and then you get his full attention.
Yes. Aidan is highly verbal. He likes books, he likes words. If he doesn’t know a word he asks you to explain the word and then use it in a sentence. If we are not around to explain a word then he looks it up. He has the Scrabble app right next to his Dictionary app and when the computer uses a word he doesn’t know he looks it up. That is why at 2 years old he was using words to improvise, unfortunate and…yes…befog…the word that Scrabble screwed me with just a few weeks ago.
But he can’t take those words – those thousands of words that he knows and use them effectively in social situations. And he also tends to talk above his peers – many a child at school parties has told me – Aidan is so smart, I don’t understand what is he saying most of the time but he seems to know what he is talking about.
Yes. Aidan has a vivid imagination. He creates worlds and events and lives and dies by them. Worlds we can’t visit and events we will never, ever understand.
He is an incredibly old soul. He sees more than most – he doesn’t know how to deal with what he sees and hears and feels but it is all there so much sooner than any child should have to deal with.
Aidan is reserved.
Scared out of his fucking mind.
Because life is to BIG and to LOUD and to INTENSE. He feels it all and so much more intensely than you and I and because of that he retreats into himself…to protect himself.
Aidan in sensitive. He may not REACT to everything but he FEELS everything.
His feelings are visceral.
Can you imagine?
So the next time you see a child who has flailing arms and is making shooting noises. Don’t point. Don’t stare. Don’t laugh. Because what you DON’T see is the horde of Clone Troopers who are descending on you and the only thing protecting you is the lasers coming from his guns. He is saving your life. Maybe just say Thank You.
Next time you see a child so overwhelmed that they shrink away, don’t try to force them out of that hiding place, dry pry away their shell. Just DON’T. He feels big. He feels loud. He feels intensely. When it gets to big he has to protect himself. Let him protect himself, let him have his shell. Don’t judge him. Give him time. Give him space.
Next time you see a tantrum don’t automatically assume the child is bad or the parents are bad. You have no idea the struggles of others. If I could tell you what would set him off at any given time then trust me when I say I love him enough that I would NOT subject him to anything I know would upset him.
But I don’t know what will set him off. We don’t know. NO ONE knows. HE doesn’t even know.
If he has gone beyond what he can handle and I am holding him tight so he won’t hurt himself don’t judge that either. Trust me I know the last thing he wants is me holding on tight but the last thing I want is him hurting himself. Sometimes it happens in public. Please don’t call the police on me – I really am protecting him – even if it seems, while he is screaming bloody murder, the opposite.
But – on a purely selfish note – if you don’t see me everyday you probably see me as brash, uncompromising, possibly loud and opinionated and no doubt sarcastic. But as difficult as that may be, please know that I don’t intend to be difficult or mean or uncaring.
In my world you guard your emotions closely because when I see how my son reacts to a strangers emotions I know…I know…I have to be stable for him. I have to always set the good example of dealing with your emotions in a positive manner. I don’t lose my cool. I don’t yell. I don’t…I don’t…I just don’t…
We just stay calm, use soft voices and softer touches and pray and hope and talk…and talk…and talk.
So what you see…is the release of all those tightly held emotions. I really am sorry!!
So – today – on Autism Awareness Day – say a prayer for Jeff, Aidan and I and for all of those others out there who are struggling.