In my role as an educator I often remind others (myself included) to consider that H and others like him who are Autistic are working doubly hard to make their way in the world. The effort my child makes to navigate a social situation is something I know I cannot fully understand. The constant reining in of impulse, and intense effort to process and interpret the experiences, perspective and non-verbal cues of others, combined with the management of anxiety and a sometimes less that positive image of self – that is hard work for my child.
I was pulled up short the other day when we left an event and as we got in the car H asked me in a matter-of-fact tone, “Mom… tell me what I did wrong?”
My heart almost stopped right then!
Actually, I am certain it did: at light speed… for an almost imperceptible moment. The center of me felt like it was being pinched in some sort of thoracic vice grip. To the scrutinizing eyes of others, I probably wouldn’t have skipped a beat…
I caught my breath and responded, “How about if we talk about the things you did really well instead?!?”
And we proceeded to inventory the social successes and high points of the evening which, by the way, were many.
It is now, a few days later, that my heart is again feeling the grip of the thoracic vice. Only now it is more pronounced, and no longer a fleeting thing. As I write, my throat is tight with uncried tears as I wonder at my role in the raising of my beautiful son.
H asked me that crushing question with the calm, resigned tone of a scientist collecting data. I confess that we have worked hard at reinforcing the idea that he can trust us to give him the social information that he needs and that he is not in trouble when we talk to him about a social mis-step. We are working so hard to support his development of social understanding. I suppose his relaxed and inquisitive tone could be seen as an indicator of success in this capacity.
However, I can’t help taking it as a huge nudge, a reminder, maybe a kick in the teeth even, to be cognizant of care needed in the steps and movements with this wonderful young man. I am realistic about my son (almost all the time) and I see both his strengths and his stretches. I am trying to figure out what I need to do differently… so that H trusts me… but so that he also develops greater trust in himself and faith and confidence in the likelihood of his successes.
I am questioning if I am seeing his strengths enough: seeing and appreciating all that is amazing about him right now? Am I focusing on the positive aspects of my son… the way that I want and expect others to do, or am I over-focused on his development and the skills and understandings I would like him to have? It is a tricky balance – and to be honest… it frightens me immensely. I want to get this one right – but I suspect will always feel some discomfort with the fact that I may never know for certain if I have. We are works in progress… all of us. Sigh.
I am hoping that some time soon his query might be more: “Mom, you want to hear what went well tonight?!?”
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, (2012)