This week I asked several moms to help me write. Why? To help all readers understand the true spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorders – not only between children, but between children in the same family. Every day this week you will get to meet a new child (or children)…they are very different from Tucker, and yet, so much the same.
A note from Tara…
My husband and I are blessed to be the parents of Michael. I am excited to share his story with you and tell you a little about what “autism” has meant to us (as parents).
Michael was not officially diagnosed with autism until he was in 2nd grade although he began receiving special education services in pre-school. This is very typical of autism diagnosis. It also is very typical of what autism has meant to us….uncertainty.
For over four years my husband and I struggled to define our child. Was he autistic? Just simply ADHD and anxious? Or was sensory integration the main issue and area we needed to focus on? The lack of understanding about what his needs were led to “judgmental” labels that were tied to him during the beginning years. ODD, aggressive, and my favorite “un-educatable.”
As parents we struggled to come to terms with the smart, caring, gentle child we knew and loved and the child described on evaluation after evaluation. Surely they described two different children? We became very frustrated. How could we help our son if no one could tell us what the problem was? Why were we continuing to “try this” and “try that” when we didn’t know if it was the right thing to do? You don’t “try out” different medicines when your child is sick – why were we trying different supports to help him succeed – when clearly no one knew what was really needed to help him.
We discovered along the way that what was most important wasn’t understanding all his issues and how to address them. It was important to try to know it all. What was most important was loving and accepting Michael for who he is – all of him.
He is a child of heartbreaking honesty and wisdom. He once famously asked me while leaving Pre-K after having another horrendous day how I could be proud of him when he failed yet again. Yes, at four years old he actually asked me that question! He is a pragmatist and a realist. He understands that he is not “typical” and has embraced the axiom “Practice make progress – not perfection.” He may temporarily give up on something and walk away, but he will return to try again.
Michael is exceptionally loving and cannot stand cruelty shown to others. He has been known to stand up in class and tell an adult that he doesn’t like the tone a teacher has taken with another child – regardless of whether that child i a “friend.”
Michael can also be aggressive. He has an unintegrated morro reflex – which leads to fight or flight reactions. Schools typically stop the flight – which of course leads to the fight – which leads to all the ugly labels. Michael is afraid of failure and has a hard time trusting others. Michael prefers to be “in control” and to manipulate and control his environment so that he feels sage. This need to control has meant that has gravitated to computers. They are predictable and controllable.
Michael is a child. He doesn’t define himself as autistic. He defines himself as most do…by his likes and dislikes…by his relationship with his family and his teachers. He mourns his inability to make and keep friends – but is hopeful that this too will change – with time and practice. He understands that failure is a part of life – we are trying to teach him that failures should be celebrated, talked about, and learned from almost as much as his successes.
Michael is a mix of opposites. Patient and impatient. Lazy and yet incredibly persevering. Scared, anxious, and unsure all while being steadfast, calm, and brave.
Michael is – and always will be – our much loved son.
Michael is – and always will be – autistic.
It is a part of him. And we have learned to celebrate and accept him for who he is.