Capturing life in words…
My son is gathering change “for the library”. Gathering change IS a change. Josiah is 13 and goes to the library because of two things: friends hang out there and the vending machine has candy. I am colossally happy about a mundane event because Josiah has high functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger’s). So social situations are not his forte. He actually avoids them. This “symptom” alone was a source of anxiety and endless hours of research, dialogue with professionals and other parents with children on the autistic spectrum. It was a worry discussed at parent groups by other mothers too.
For years I would cajole, re-package, encourage, beg “it’s so your sister is comfortable” and nag him to leave the house. I even bribed. However, parents understand — there are times we stoop to bribery. We all have done it. Yes, even as a social worker knowing it was not the healthy way to instill value, I still did it. None of the aforementioned strategies worked for more than an occasional tolerance of a “family activity”. As a mother, I would succeed through my various tactics to get my son out the door and to “try” a plethora of activities. Yet, Josiah remained a loner. It’s like taking my Asian spouse and putting him in costume, administer various therapies and dragging him to cultural fairs and events– when you take the costume off and all is said and done, he is still what he is. He is Asian. Josiah is a loner. The loner aspect, is a socially constructed diagnosis, in my opinion.
I finally stopped harassing the poor child when it dawned on me (FINALLY) — he was not upset being alone, I was upset. He would contently spend his time with video games, nature, the dogs. My own anxieties and buying into the theories of some well meaning, but wrong professionals who pushed me to make Josiah typical– more mainstream. The boy is introverted, intellectual, pragmatic and very concrete. The world needs to be more understanding of the uniqueness and individuality of all– including those living happily on the autistic spectrum. Einstein was miserable as a student of public or institutional education. He was a genius, forced to “be more mainstream”. Einstein was truly scarred by schooling and relayed as an adult how painful those years were for him. Einstein also was Asperger’s. Josiah is brilliant and unique. This insight freed me from internal angst and him from perpetual events being presented to him by
Projecting our perspective onto others, and allowing the perspective of other to influence us is common. In short, it’s easy and not done consciously– making our stuff someone else’s issue too. We do it in all kinds of avenues. Even God. We give God our human characteristics. “He must be uncaring to let so many little children starve!” (Hello, WE are the ones letting them starve. Yet, another topic for another day). We think our spouse is mad about something, because it annoyed us. This habit of projection is not a problem until it impacts others or causes emotional distress within us.
Josiah has begun now to expand and try out peers. It’s a slow process. Which is irrelevant. What is more relevant is it is his process. He walks home from school — initially born out of the dislike for noise on the bus and his insisting he could walk the 6 blocks home. Now he also walks and talks with peers. Typical events like this are big in the world of people with spectrum disorders. I admit to quiet tears of pride when perceivably small hurdles are accomplished. I cry because I know the courage it takes for Josiah to do some of these things. He has shared his frustration and pain with me. So yes, I acknowledge his conflict of “fitting in” and “being himself”. It is a delicate dance to honor our uniqueness and also feel accepted. No one wants to be rejected. It is different when the choice is ours to not do what middle school America is doing. I am so impressed with his tenacity and courage to manage this balance. He does better than most adults.
He is not a saint, lest one think I am delusional and accepting my son’s wants as the standard. As Josiah argues about brushing his teeth before going to the library today, I am reminded he still is a regular boy who avoids, loathes and tries to duck hygiene. He is grown in his ability to honor his unique wants, but still needs mothering. Some of it, like teeth brushing, is thankfully mundane and doesn’t involve matters of the heart. Now when two bullies held him down in a puddle in winter, it was a more difficult moment as a mother. My heart broke with his and I marched over to the other child’s house with fury. Those moments still hurt when re-visited.
I choose my worries and battles more carefully now. I am exponentially more relaxed than when Josiah was younger. Early in the process of his life I was reading, researching, over-doing therapies — in sum, I was a hot mess. Today, I trust the process of life and learning. I ensure education of social norms and communication have been instilled and then allow him to explore his own norm. The process of life and growing, if trusted, will allow many small births. The library was born because I do not regularly keep sweets in the house (other than the Dove chocolate hidden in the Mommy spot), and I let him walk the 5 blocks to the library beginning this last year. Viola’. Then over the course of months, he started “hanging out” at the computers and teen section. I get little info other than he has a friend Eric and Alex. They are his age. They talk occasionally. Eric also walks home with Josiah. This is huge. Josiah never had friends his own age, which is typical for individuals gifted with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Yet, Josiah’s mom has done some growing too in the thirteen years he has been alive. I was content all last year when he did not go to the library or have friends. He was content, and that was enough for me. Josiah and I stay in the moment. It keeps things much simpler. It works for us.
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