Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Sons Are Autistic

It’s been very difficult for me to accept my beautiful sons are both autistic.  The diagnosis seemed so dismal.  Prior to 2004, when David had been initially evaluated, I had never met anyone with autism and my only experience with this disorder was from seeing the movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman.  Not very promising, devastating in fact…

Yet my sons are both very intelligent boys and they love to read and learn.   Their social skills are lacking in some areas, but both can be pretty outgoing and friendly.   Life for them is black and white, right or wrong, there is no middle ground.

Mikey has no filter.  One morning, at the school entrance, a  special needs boy was upset and flung himself on the ground in front of us, kicking and screaming.  Mikey marched right up to him and scolded, “You’re not supposed to be on the ground.  Get UP!”    Recently, we replaced our deck and the   contractor was puffing on a cigarette.  Mikey looked at him and said, “That stinks.  Smoking is bad for you.”   One of my many fears is that he’s going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and get a beating.

David, Jr.  is extremely sensitive and kind.  Every year, after the first week of school  is under his belt, his teachers come up to me and tell me that he is their favorite.  He gives new meaning to the words ‘teacher’s pet’.  Last year, one of his third grade teachers told me that she always asked him to help other classmates if they were struggling with an assignment.  She said David had a way of helping his friends without making them feel stupid. 

However, basic manners like saying thank you and please, and looking someone in the eye when speaking can be a challenge.   When greeted, both David and Mikey sometimes walk on by as if no one even spoke to them at all.   These are times I feel compelled to explain that my sons aren’t really rude, my sons are autistic.

Preschool was extremely stressful for both me and my husband.  It would take the two of us a couple  hours every morning to get them ready for school.   Mikey would scream bloody murder when I brought him into his classroom and I could hear his sobs as I forced myself to leave the school.  When I picked them up after school, Mikey would press the elevator button.  If he didn’t, I could count on a minimum of a two hour kicking and screaming tantrum.  He would freak out if I didn’t take the exact same route home.   If the cable happened to go out or there was a test of the Emergency Broadcast System when he was watching TV, the entire night would be ruined.

Happily I can report that with skillful and patient teachers and a lot of consistent reinforcement both at school and at home, Mikey has come a long way in dealing with one of his greatest obstacles; breaks to the routine.  We are now working on fine tuning some of his social skills.  But still, when others are present to witness a lapse in good behavior or a full blown outburst, I feel obliged tell them, "my son is autistic."

When meeting new people, Mikey has a tendency to either not speak and not make eye contact.  When he meets  a younger child, he sometimes becomes overly friendly and at times overbearing.  He recently met a little girl at a birthday party and was trying to play with her by following her around and teasing her.  Well, she thought he was teasing, but it was just his way of trying to engage her in play.   He had no idea that his behavior was inappropriate and that she didn’t like it.  And I again I had to explain to the girl’s mother that he doesn’t mean to make her daughter uncomfortable, it is his way of showing he likes her,  he is autistic. 

When we are out and there is a lot of sensory stimulation, ultimately one or both with start some form of stimming, usually in the form of hand flapping and again, it is imperative that I clarify the fact that my sons are autistic. 

But even as this phrase flows effortlessly out, I  can hear the words that Josh (Fabulous Beekman Boys) emphatically stated to me last fall as we were following him into the Beekman Mansion in upstate NY.  “Different is good”.   

And as my sons continue progress and grow,  I am finally beginning to think Josh may be right.

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