Tag Archives: meltdowns

Embracing Autism

1 Nov

If there was a cure for autism, would you use it for your child?

This question was posed to me recently by a non-autism parent, and it really made me think. Before I was an autism mom – indeed, before I was any kind of mom – my immediate instinct would have been to say “Yes! Absolutely! What kind of parent would choose for their child to have a disability?”

Now that I can speak with the voice of experience, my answer to that question is very different. There are some aspects of autism that I would get rid of in a heartbeat. When my son, now eight, has his meltdowns, the expression of anguish in his eyes breaks my heart. If I could wave a magic wand, I would give him the ability to communicate the pain that he feels during those outbursts. I would make the changes of seasons easier for him, I would make Christmas less overwhelming, and I would give him the skills to play with his little brother.

On the other hand, there are things that I would not change in a million years. Someone once told me that my son is very smart “in spite of his autism.” I gently corrected this person by telling her that my son is very smart because of his autism. His mind works in a very unique way. Thanks to his out-of-the-box thinking, this kid can problem-solve rings around the rest of us. He can do multiplication in his head, and this is something that no-one has ever taught him. He just figured it out himself. He sees patterns that are lost on everyone around him: once, when he was putting coloured pegs into a board, I literally had to squint at the board from a number of angles before the pattern he was creating suddenly jumped out at me. If he was given a cure for autism, that incredible way of thinking would disappear.

In the eyes of society, my son has a disability. The education system regards him as having special needs, autism is classified by the medical community as a disability, and the government has granted us a disability tax credit for him. And rightly so: my son definitely needs special accommodations. There is no way he can function in a neurotypical world without assistance. Although I believe he will be capable of great things as an adult, I see the possibility of him being unable to live completely independently. But as much as there are things that he cannot do as well as other people, there are things that he does better. He may frequently take the scenic route from a problem to the solution, but his route can cover a lot more ground, solve problems that no-one else even knew existed, and frankly, the scenic route often has a better view than the highway.

When this amazing boy with his sweet, sweet disposition curls up on the couch with me, wraps his little arms around me, and allows me the privilege of being in his world with him, I feel a love for him that is too big to put into words.

Would I ever want my son to be “cured” of autism? No. Because the challenges just make us stronger, and his autism is a part of the beautiful person he is.

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George’s New Hat

14 May

When my Mom came from South Africa for my wedding, she came bearing gifts for the boys. Among other things, each of them got a new hat. James wears his because it’s cool, and because none of his friends at school has an “Africa hat”. George wears his because he’s weird about hats. For George, a hat is not just a hat. It’s an essential part of his routine, one that he feels completely lost without.

George’s previous hat was provided by my Mom as well. She mailed it over to me about a year ago, and since then it’s been practically glued to his head (except for the times when I sneak it into the washing machine while he is sleeping). The new hat is identical to the old hat. It’s got the same “South Africa” lettering on it, and it has the same animal pictures in the same pattern. The only difference is that while the old hat was cream-coloured, the new hat is blue.

For George, switching hats is a big deal. Imagine what it would be like if someone decided to remove your head and replace it with a new one. It may seem like an extreme example, but that is, for George, what switching hats is like. He got so comfortable with the old one, and so used to it, that getting rid of it was an unbearable prospect, one that resulted in meltdowns and anxiety attacks (mostly on George’s part, but a little bit on mine too).

There were house guests galore for a couple of weeks leading up to the wedding, and that in itself was a lot for my routine-dependent child with autism. Gerard suggested that maybe this was not the time to switch hats on George, and I had to agree. So we left it for a while. By last weekend, things had quietened down considerably. The wedding was a week in the past, and the only guest remaining was my Mom.

During a rough-and-tumble moment of play, George’s hat fell off. On a whim, I grabbed it and shoved it into the washing machine (it was starting to smell a little gamey). I took out the new hat and put it on George’s head. Predictably, he went ballistic. Screaming, kicking, tossing the hat away from him, crying with utter distress.

Fortunately, the old hat was not an option. At that moment, it was wet and sudsy and being tossed around in the washing machine.  So there was no choice but to persevere with the new hat.

As George tossed himself screaming around the floor, I maneuvered him onto his back and sat on his legs, leaving his arms free. The hat was on the floor behind him, but within his reach. I looked into his eyes and started throwing out sums at him.

What’s four times five?

What’s three plus four?

What’s twenty minus six?

And so on. Each time I tossed out a question, George answered it. He seems to have a genuine love for numbers, and this technique is proving to be a surefire way of distracting him when he’s upset.

Sure enough, he gradually calmed down. When he started reciting times tables, I knew we were close. And then, slowly but surely, while he was still reciting his times tables, he reached behind him and casually put the new hat on his head.

It was a minor battle, but it was a battle nonetheless. And we won it, me and my boy.