There have been times as a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum that I have had to adopt the fake it ’til you make it approach. At times the message that I need to convey to my child or the behaviour that I have to model is at odds with the way I feel inside.
Sometimes I have had to ignore what might have been my natural response and rein it in. The ability to do this is learned, and practiced. It is perhaps self-control in the extreme.
However, it might be considered that this really is not that different from the expectations we have for our Autistic children. I must query rhetorically… if we can’t do it (take action that goes against impulse), can we expect it of our children?
I am reminded of a time years when H was about 4 or 5 years old. It was a Friday night: Craig was working, my daughter was out, and I was alone with H.
He and I were playing a joint attention and referencing game involving tickling lots of laughs and silliness… when we crashed into each other.
Unfortunately, this resulted in H’s two front teeth being driven completely through my upper lip, right under my nose.
I was pretty sure I needed a couple of stitches.
I also knew that human bites are highly prone to infection.
The thought of taking my kid on the Autism spectrum to emergency and waiting 4 hours to get stitches, surrounded by the wild Friday night crowd, etc, was quickly dismissed. (Did I mention it was a Friday night?)
Our experiences with the local emergency room have been somewhat colourful. The last time we had been there, a guy who thought he was God had tried to heal us, before removing all of his clothes to give to a homeless man. I was also fairly certain that the doctors in the emergency room wouldn’t be as concerned as I was about my face.
They would be busy with far more serious, possibly life-threatening, issues.
Needless to say, I felt panicked!
This was in the middle of my FACE!!
And I was on my own!!!
A complicating factor was that at that time H was afraid of blood, and as is common with facial wounds, I was bleeding profusely.
We had been working with him for months to decrease his worries that ‘his wires would show’ if he was scraped or cut, and to teach him that the body knows how to heal itself.
He was crying really hard and saying that he was sorry over and over again. Clearly he was frightened.
I was trying to act cheerful and tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that sometimes accidents happen, that the blood was just doing its job and cleaning the wound, and later it would form a scab so that the skin could heal underneath.
So I handled it: I smiled, spoke of the healing process, fixed myself up, and (although it definitely existed) I somehow didn’t let one second of panic show to my child. I had to be calm and reassure him the whole time or we would have lost months of carefully worked on gains.
In retrospect, it is a rather funny tale…
At first I tried to cut a regular band-aid into a butterfly band-aid, but this failed miserably and I couldn’t get it to stick. This was partly because of the proximity of my nose and partly because I had slathered copious amounts of antibiotic cream on the wound. I couldn’t use a regular band-aid because the cuts paralleled my upper lip and my nose was unfortunately blocking that place to attach the band-aid.
Throughout this whole time I was saying, “Don’t worry, Mommy’s going to be OK,” and I once again reflected that it would seem at times my outer life and my inner life are not a match.
Actually, I finally had so much Polysporin on my face that nothing would stick.
And so… as a last resort, I actually ended up taping my upper lip to the tip of my nose, using 3m medical tape, because I couldn’t get a band-aid in there to draw the skin together.
It worked beautifully and completely closed the wound.
I slathered the space behind the tape with more Polysporin using a Q-tip.
Then I used a sharpie to draw a big happy face on the tape and told H that I was fine:
I was quite a vision.
Amazingly, my toothy little wound healed without infection, or even a scar… and I got a pretty funny story out of the deal. The first time I told it was that later that night (from behind a book – so I wouldn’t freak Craig out)
“Ummmm… Honey, before you look at me, I have something to tell you…” and I went on to explain my condition and the excitement he had missed…
Although some might just call it positive thinking, I am still a big fan of the fake it ’till you make it strategy for all sorts of things!!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011, 2012)