I have read some well-written blog articles this week. The links are below. The author of one of the blogs is the mother of a boy with autism. She expressed so many of the thoughts and emotions I have had since Tate’s diagnosis of autism. The diagnosis for many of us moms is somewhat of a relief because it explains so much. The diagnosis allows us to excuse some of the behaviors we did not understand. Like the other mother, I also remember being VERY happy that the words “high functioning” were placed in front of the word “autism” each time the doctor gave his opinion. Those two words softened the blow. It was as if the words would mean the burden was easier to bear or those words would make our lives so much easier in the future.
Also like the other mother, I hoped that all the early intervention would help “enough.” I hoped we could all but eliminate the handicap and repair his brain, leaving us with a quirky child, a child that was almost “normal.” She and I have both found that the handicap only gets worse with age in many ways. Some of the behaviors intensify. Some of the behaviors do not intensify but appear to. A five year old with an irrational fear does not appear nearly as handicapped as a teenager with an irrational fear. Some of the things you have been able to stop your small child from doing, you cannot stop your six-foot tall child from doing. New behaviors and challenges come with puberty.
One of these posts is by a mother who knows the pain that comes from her child not being included by his peers. Another post talks about how well her child is included by his peers. Tate has been included by his peers and has not been mistreated at school. I have never witnessed or overheard anyone speaking ill of Tate either. In one of the blog articles I have read, the mother talked about the success of a buddy program in place for her son at school. We have had something similar for Tate. He has a lot of eyes watching out for him, always ready to step in and assist him if need be. She also spoke of educating her son’s classmates about autism. We have done that and found that it helped immensely. Explaining Tate’s differences and the reason behind some of the odd behavior made it so much easier for the children to know what to expect from Tate and to be sympathetic to his quirks. When we go out into our community, kids go out of the way to greet Tate, understanding that he will not necessarily remember their name, or even willingly return their greeting. I usually thank the child for being friendly and apologize that Tate cannot remember their name. The children are always very forgiving. They usually even tell me “I know” when I remind them that Tate has a hard time remembering faces and names. Yet they still keep trying.
Tate’s siblings are so aware of the handicapped people around them. I’ve tried to instill a sort of golden rule there. I have often reminded them to treat handicapped people they way they hope Tate is being treated by others. They really have become good at going out of their way to be friendly to those around them who are “different.” I talked my three college-aged kids into going bowling with me a couple mornings ago. The little ones were in school and I wanted to spend some alone time with the big ones. There was a handicapped man wiping down the counters. He was very "quirky" and kept his head down but responded when we greeted him while we were choosing our bowling balls. The song "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" was on the intercom and I was singing along. The man asked me if I liked the song. I told him I did and I asked him about what he was doing for Christmas. The more we talked, the taller he stood. My son asked him to come and sit with us when he was done working. He did not come over but did watch us from afar. After a time, he was obviously done with his job and was waiting on his ride. My son made a second attempt and being friendly and they had a nice conversation, mostly about his coat (very similar to the kind of thing a conversation with Tate would revolve around.) The girls and I waited patiently for them to finish. That conversation may, or may not have been, the highlight of that man’s day. Regardless, it was much more important that knocking bowling pins down. I’ve thought about that man several times since we left the bowling alley. Once upon a time, he was somebody’s little boy. A generation ago, that man’s mother probably went through all the same emotions and fears that I have faced. Before Tate entered my life I would not have gone out of my way to have a conversation with a handicapped man. I would not have taught my kids to go out of their way to have a conversation with a handicapped man either. Becoming the mother of a child with autism is one of the BEST "things" that has ever happened to me! I hope that enough peer education is being done in schools and homes all around the country to ensure that Tate will be treated well when he ventures out into the real world. And, I hope to return to the bowling alley soon, not so much because I want to knock down pins. I want to see how my new "friend" is doing.