I have an 18 year old son with autism, who was mostly non-verbal until he was six, had sensory issues out the ying-yang, and could not…. would not…. go anywhere without specific items he “needed.”
Yesterday, I went to church with this boy, who willingly left his phone and headphones in the car two blocks away, and removed his favorite SF Giants hat upon entering the church, then kept it off the entire time. That never would have been the case a few ago! All of those things would have been a battle ending in frustration for all of us.
As he stood next to me singing hymns and Christmas songs along with me and the rest of the church – keeping time, carrying a tune, and missing not a single word – the enormity of his level of progress struck me so hard, I had to stop and collect myself before I could continue singing. Thank God I’d stuffed tissues in my sweater pocket before leaving, as most mothers are in the habit of doing regardless of how old our kids are.
The kid amazes me daily. This once non-verbal young man, now talks politics daily with his family, friends and teachers. He can do most everything on his own, he just forgets to do them. Is every day perfect? No. But who’s is? My menopausal self has more meltdowns than this kid! Very often, he does things for me out of the clear blue sky, just because he wants to help me out.
One day, I’d gone grocery shopping and was in the process of putting everything away, with only the bag of sugar to transfer to its container in the cupboard, when I needed to take a bathroom break. When I came back, the sugar was in the container, in the cupboard, and the paper bag it came in was in the trash. My first reaction was to thank my husband for doing it, but he said he hadn’t. Our son said, “Oh. I did it because I wanted to help you.” You could have knocked me over with a feather!
There have been other similar occasions where my kid just does something nice for me or his dad because he feels like it, and it always shocks me. Just last Friday, he surprised us by he using his own allowance money to buy his dad and I a snowcone after school. Nobody asked him to. In fact, we weren’t even with him when he did it on the way from the bus stop!
If you know anything about autistic people, then you know it’s uncommon for them to take another’s desires, comfort, wishes, or well-being into consideration, much less take action to propagate it on their own!
To what do I attribute this amazing progress?
- God and the power of prayer.
- Parents and four older brothers who refused to treat this boy any differently than anyone else.
- A lot of love and patience .
- Wonderful teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists provided free-of-charge by the school district.
- The kid himself, for always trying so hard to meet all his goals.
- Lots of patience and self-education on autism.
- Always telling him that autism is what he has, not what he is!
That’s very important!
If I could give other parents advice on coping with autism, it would be to follow the seven steps above, every single day no matter how hard it is. Whether or not it’s a good day is irrelevant. You don’t always have good days either, but isn’t it nice when people still treat you with love and compassion? Don’t forget that part of love is never giving up on them. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely always been worth it!
C.A. Bennett – Writer