Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Chrysalis: If That Were My Kid...

If that were my kid... 

We have all been there. A store, a restaurant, a library. Someone’s child exhibiting unwanted behavior. Making you shake your head in disbelief and disgust and either in your head or out loud you say “if that were my kid, I would….”. I’ve been there. I am the mother of a lovely, gifted boy with Autism. Asperger’s syndrome to be exact. Over the years, I have had to deal with challenging behavior and the knowledge that something is just not right. It was compounded by the fact that he has a twin sister and the side by side comparison was jarringly different. Moreso than the fact that girls are generally more mature than boys. More than the “boys will be boys” mentality. I always knew something was not quite the same. He was six years old before he was finally diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and then I had clear direction on how to help him. You would think with my background in behavior management, counseling, and working intensively with children with developmental disabilities (including autism) and his father being a psychologist that we would have a leg up and on this. Not so. Not at all. Not even close. Every parent has to go through the whole grief process of what we wanted for this child. Now throw in the mix a very contentious divorce and things can get quite “interesting”. Our children are almost ten now and we are just barely getting our footing in “cooperative parenting”. Nearly five years after separating. That surely has not helped either child, but we are a work in progress. Who knows what it will look like in five more years. 

Nowadays, people meet him and when they hear he is autistic. I get responses similar to these… “But he doesn’t look autistic”, “If he does have it, it’s only a little bit”, “But he’s so smart”, “He doesn’t act autistic”. Now for those who really know me, know that I am almost purely made of sarcasm and snark. I really have to override that to respond to these statements in a purely educational way. There is no look, you either have it or you don’t, why can’t he be smart, it is not an act. 

Darrien is considered High Functioning. Although, that does not garner him any social points where he is the most difficulty. Body language, facial expressions, and figures of speech mean nothing to him. He does not learn that from his interactions. They are taught to him mostly by me. What comes natural to most in dealing with others is not natural to him. He understands extreme emotions such as anger and joy, but the ones such as frustration or aggravation are totally invisible to him. When he is speaking to someone and they back away, he steps forward to continue the conversation. He has trouble with eye contact so has learned to look at peoples noses for the most part. Sounds can be too loud, light too bright, certain fabrics painful to him. Most days he loves to hug, some days if I pass my hand over his arm he will cry out in pain. These experiences have led him to screaming fits, head slapping, constant motion, insomnia, inconsolable crying, etc. More often than not, these adverse reactions happen in public because I have no control over the environment and how much input he gets. I see the shaking of heads, I hear the “if that were my kid” comments, I’ve even been told that I should leave an establishment and come back when he is better or to just stay home.

I am that mother who seems to not notice that her child is screaming at the top of their lungs while she finishes making her purchases. I am that mother who has her screaming child sitting in a corner at Target and waves at you with a smile on her face as you pass by with a scowl. I have things that must be done. They will get done, screaming child and all. If I leave every time he has a meltdown then 1. I don’t get anything done and 2. He has learned that if he doesn’t want to be someplace all he has to do is look like he’s going to have an issue. I don’t play that. 

I am also that mother who doesn’t let people coddle her child or talk to him in those baby voices while he is having a meltdown. I am also that mother who seems to react strongly to little things that her child does and be nose to nose with him talking sternly. At times I can come across as hard and unnuturing , other times too calm and oblivious. I am what he needs and I make no excuses for it. 

He is nine now and does have more coping skills, some of which I don’t care too much for. Now, when he can’t sleep, instead of waking me up every hour to tell me he can’t sleep, he just stands by my bed and looks at me. I think he is just beginning to understand that is not an acceptable alternative for me considering the jumping out of my skin bit. If he is playing with others and becomes anxious about the interactions he either removes himself from it or tries to take complete control over EVERYTHING! We are working on that too. It’s an evolution. 

Now, not everything he does is a product of autism. He is very, very intelligent and I have to weigh the things I am seeing and make a judgment call of whether it is a case of Aspergers or A-hole. I know not many parents will say that out loud, but I keeps it real. He loves to challenge his sister in a game of wits which he loses 99% of the time (she’s scary good at this stuff). He just lives for that 1% of victory. When they were almost 7, she heard me tell his pediatrician that he has Aspergers. She pulled me to the side and asks me, Asperberger? Like in butt sandwich?. It’s so hard to keep a serious and stern face when you want to high five a six year old and say “GOOD ONE!!”. The doctor cracked up. I told him he was quite unhelpful. He didn’t care. He’s a great doctor. 

Darrien is very inquisitive and asks questions all day long. Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…..seems to be his mantra. The questions are varied…Did you know that the milky way tastes like raspberries? Have you ever put your money where your mouth is? How exactly does the sperm get to the egg? Have you known anybody who died laughing, I heard people can die of laughter. My personal favorite: How is it that Dad looks so much older than you but is actually younger? A person can’t begin to imagine what another person’s family is like just by sight. We need to learn how to be non-judgmental and then maybe go that extra step and be helpful. Things are not always as it seems. That horribly behaved child may be autistic or something else. That blonde hair blue eyed child may have Black parents. Families are unendingly diverse for whatever reasons. Acceptance is key. We all just want to be accepted and appreciated for who we are and not what others expect us to be. I am not only an advocate for Autism Awareness. I am an advocate for awareness, period. Be aware of yourself and how you affect others. Be aware of others and their needs. Be aware of your true self and be honest to that. Once you can accept yourself honestly, lovingly, and with grace and forgiveness, you can extend that out to those around you. 

If that were my kid, I would do what is best for that child at the time.

Laura Hernandez

About the author:

Laura Hernandez is an energetic, divorced mother of twins. She is a hypnotist, motivational speaker, life coach and unintentional comedienne. Through sharing her life story of tragedy, struggle and overcoming against the odds, she strives to encourage every person she comes in contact with to transform their lives and live in hope, love, happiness and wholeness.

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Unknown said...

What an eye opener. Very enlightening and adding humor just made it better. I hope every person who reads this comes away with a deep appreciation of the mom's we see struggling to keep a kid in line, or has the child that cannot stop whining. Everybody has a story. Thanks Laura for sharing yours so honestly.

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