In case you don’t know already, April is Autism Awareness Month, but it’s known by many as Autism Acceptance Month now, and for good reason. I hope that we all know what autism is by now. There’s a reason the month should turn to acceptance rather than just shallow awareness. For my family, it means something special since my oldest son has autism spectrum disorder. As an autism mother, I have learned that we all have our special reasons to define motherhood differently. This reality is firmly rooted in the constructs that we put together from our histories. Do we expect perfection from our children? Obedience? And how do we, as mothers, define success? This is our story.
He gets in trouble at school. A lot. He hits, he kicks, he screams, he runs, and he has even stabbed another student with a pencil. He could easily be mistaken for a violent person this way, but he doesn’t do these things at home. He’s a sweet boy. He hugs, he kisses, he tells me I’m beautiful, he tells my husband he’s handsome, he loves his brother, his dog, his cat, and all of our reptile friends. He gets crazy excited when he hears someone say sweet things about him.
Yes, my son has autism.
When he’s excited, he does this cute little hop where he kicks one foot into the air over and over while turning his body. When he’s sad, mad, or disappointed, we see meltdowns unresolved by him getting what he wanted in the first place. He can become inconsolable. He panics when his brother has a blood nose, convinced that he must be dying. If someone throws up, he runs away and screams and cries, then asks if they are dying. he’s very afraid that someone he loves will go away permanently and he’s vastly aware of how little control he has over the environment and other people. I see this not as a negative, but as a positive sign that despite what people think, he can love.
He has unique talents. I cannot name a car symbol that he doesn’t know. As we drive back home from school and work for 40 minutes, he will identify every single car that passes us. He gets excited when he sees his favorites: Buick, Audi, Ford, Mazda, Fiat, or Mustang symbols really excite him. He gets even giddier over Teslas, Maseratis, and Lamborghinis. For years he had a deep obsession with Mini Coopers. They are far more common now than they were then. Now he keeps an eye out for the most expensive vehicles he can find, but he also loves to look for Land Rovers, which we don’t see very often.
My son has autism. Autism is not synonymous with intellectual disability. All autistic individuals are different. Some cannot talk, but he can talk. He has difficulty articulating his words, but he’s gotten better at not getting frustrated at having to repeat them. His delays in expressive, receptive, and pragmatic communication does not prevent him from telling you lines from songs and movies. It doesn’t prevent him from repeating the same question over and over until you answer him, then asking you again just to make sure. It doesn’t prevent him from telling you that you’re the best [mom, dad, brother, teacher] ever. He can talk. But that doesn’t mean he can always talk either. We try to teach him to use his words, but they get locked up in his brain when he gets really upset. Instead, he may just yell out “Shut up!” or “You butthead” or “Hit the HECK!” He just recently learned that he misheard one of his phrases and that Hit the Heck was actually someone saying “Hit the hay,” but when he’s angry, it may just as well mean something else in his mind.
Although sometimes it seems like it, his behavior does not come from nowhere. He never acts out without reason. Those reasons can range from the cat sitting on his blanket to his brother not playing with the cars the “right way.” He learns the rules and remembers them. He hates it when people don’t follow rules. When he notices another child getting away with behaviors that he knows are unacceptable, he “freaks out” (an apt phrase he picked up from a show). I get told constantly by the school when I come pick him up during a suspension that his behavior “came out of nowhere” and this bothers me because I know this is not true. What it means to me is “we were not able to make a connection between his behavior and the event that immediately preceded it” and I can’t help them with that. I can punish him by taking away his table, not allowing him to watch television, him losing his prize for the week, or any number of things, but none of that makes it better for him because he will go back to school and encounter the same thing again and react the same way. In order to prevent a behavior, you must first identify the antecedent (or even that occurred just prior to the behavior) and work to lessen the impact. Until the school learns to identify the behavior, consequences are meaningless. You are simply punishing him for a reaction to a stimulus that you have failed to notice. Over and over and over. At some point, this no longer becomes something we can say is his fault. In fact, he never has learned how to manage frustration because no one, aside from home, has been able to teach him this very important skill.
So my son doesn’t like to wear shoes at school. Aside from the apparent safety issue that he might slip and fall on the floor while in his bare feet, this seems so trivial in the moment. He doesn’t even like to wear clothes. We give him a break at home and allow him to run around in his underwear unless we need to go somewhere or he wants to go outside in the cold like that. He could do so much worse than just take his shoes off, so it seems like something silly to fight.
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Most of what I have to say about my son is that he is loved by many because he’s a beautiful child. He has a sweet personality, he’s loving, he likes to help out, and he rarely tells a lie. When he does lie, he does not do it well. There is something very charming about him that draws other people nearer. I am glad to have him as a son. I would change the world for him, but I wouldn’t change him for the world. He deserves unconditional love just as much as any other child. Just as much as his brother. Just as much as the other students in your classroom. He’s not “gifted” but he has gifts. He’s not bad, but he makes bad choices sometimes. The thing about it is that once you know him–really know him–you cannot help but love him.
My love for my two boys runs deep. These are the children I spent 9 months carrying, reading to, singing to, and talking to even as they swam around in my uterus. I gave birth to two of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen–my sons. To not appreciate is to say that those 9 months were nothing. Instead, I look into two gorgeous sets of eyes–one brown and one blue—and I see my whole world. I love these kids for how different they are from each other just as much as I love them for how much they have in common. It would be a lie to say that sometimes I wish things were different or easier than before. But I’m also decidedly hooked on these two kids. For me, this is a part of motherhood.
It’s the little moments that count. It’s the moments where I hold their hands, embrace them, laugh with them, and hear them tell they love me that count. It’s the times when they both want nothing more than for me to tuck them into bed and decided leave my husband out of the routine. And so at the end of the day, I give them tree kisses, once to tell them goodnight, once to tell them I love them, and once to tell them that I will see them in the morning before I lightly close their doors and tell them, “sweet dreams.” The moon is not far enough away to catch how far my love extends. I’m a mother. But, more importantly, I’m the mother of two children who are both special for very different reasons. No one every said being a mom would be easy, but they also never said that the love they gave back would make the difficulties melt away in just a few seconds.
I hope that you will join me in my quest to help define motherhood differently. We all love different children with their own unique sets of challenges and rewards. Does one parent necessarily need to follow the same set of rules with their children as everyone else, or do we love and appreciate our children for who they are and let everything flow from there? Do we expect total obedience, or do we use more flexibility in our approaches? Do we live in houses where both children are treated exactly the same, or do our children learn early on that fair is not always equal? Sometimes this seems like a harsh reality. It seems like I’m failing at motherhood when my child doesn’t rise to the same expectations as the ones around him. Other times, I’m able to recognize that I parent differently because I’ve learned how to differentiate my approach based on what my children individually need. I see so much positive change in my children as I let go of the perception of what is “normal” in society and embrace the fact that we’re all different. Motherhood doesn’t mean raising perfect humans. It means raising children to be the best they’re capable of becoming and helping them carve their own path toward success. The older my children get and the wiser I’d like to think I’ve become, I feel like less of a failure and more like the type of mother who adapts to meet ever-changing circumstances.
What is motherhood like for you? I love for you to share with me!
This is a very different Sunny Saturdays link-up. I would like for you to link-up with your own special motherhood stories. Please join in!
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