Life With A Side Of Autism

LIFE WITH A SIDE OF AUTISM

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I'm More Than Happy To Teach You All That My Son Has Taught Me


I was on a Reddit post the other day and someone brought up having a girlfriend with an autistic kid and how hard it was for them to be in a relationship with her - which turned into a full on dump on parenthood and parenting special-needs kids and as usual, on Reddit (with this subject, anyway) it just got ugly.

It shouldn't surprise me. Their demographic is largely teen-to-young-adult male so what do they know about life or parental love or anything beyond their own little bubble? Still, it hurts me everytime I read someone's short-sighted comments, and I felt compelled to toss in my two cents. I didn't preach or try to shame them - I just pointed out that while my son could be challenging, he's taught me solid skills for interacting with people that I never would have known before. And I love him just like he is.

I got downvoted mostly, but I did get a few direct messages from some people who supported me, and a few people on the spectrum who thanked me for being a decent human being. My detractors will hopefully grow up and learn to be decent human beings themselves, someday, when they've gotten knocked around by life a little more.

So here's the practical application of what my son has taught me, and how it helped me to help someone else:

I was in a meeting with a coworker, who was celebrating an odd anniversary. Her former boss left the company a year ago, and her world got immeasurably better when he did. He seemed a nice enough guy superficially, but hard to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

So I told her what I'd always thought: that man (I believe) was on the spectrum. He had a decided lack of empathy - he could never see anything from anyone's point of view but his own. He never made eye contact when talking to you. He had very fixated and repetitive behaviors. Whenever I interacted with him, I found myself talking to him in ways that worked with my son, and I  never had a problem with the guy (to be fair, he wasn't my boss). When he was stressing about something, I calmed him down before I tried to address the problem. When he wasn't understanding something that had a social component, I made a point to say "Wouldn't you feel this way..." or "How would you feel if..." and force him to put himself into the scenario instead of "They feel..." or "I don't think they'll like that..." (which he couldn't really relate to).

You could have knocked my coworker over with a feather. Her eyes went wide and she said, "Oh my God - that explains so much. So much!" She had previous experience with the spectrum herself and I could see where all the gears clicked into place in her head. She hugged me and said, "I can forgive him now. I wish I'd realized all that sooner."

Of course, this was my armchair diagnosis, and I could be totally wrong. But I bet I'm not. And it helped her to understand his way of doing things a little better. 

Later that same day, I was with a friend in the car on the way to do some shopping, and I mentioned that David has a behavior that used to make me crazy until one of his teachers helped me understand it. He smiles - not just a little, but widely - whenever he's being reprimanded. It made me crazy! So disrespectful and it was clear he wasn't feeling remorse for his actions or taking me seriously.

And it turns out that's wrong. David's teacher showed me that he was doing something called projection. In his autistic mind, actions have a set reaction. Doing "A" means you get reaction "B." And what normally happens when you smile at someone?

They smile back.

David was nervous, and feeling uncomfortable with being reprimanded (as he should be) so he smiled to try to force me to smile - to break my mood and turn it around and get us off this uncomfortable subject. It's taken years - seriously, years - to break him of this, and he still does it on occasion. I had to drill into him in the habit of looking serious when someone's upset with him. The last thing I need is him bumping into some huge bully at school and then giving the guy an enormous, sh*t-eating grin when he gets yelled at for it. That will most certainly not end well.

My friend was amazed because her little girl (who also has some social challenges, though not on the ASD spectrum) does the exact same thing. Smiling big while mom or dad take her to task for bad behavior. It gave my friend some new insight, and maybe with a little work, the kid can tailor her social responses a little better now.

And I never would have known any of that if it weren't for David.
Teaching me.

I can give you another hundred lessons I've learned from being his parent (and his sister's, while we're at it) and all of them have helped me in countless places in my day-to-day life, at work, dealing with family, neighbors, ex-husbands...all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. I've learned to read body language like a pro, to pick up on discomfort levels and stress signals. 

But most of all, I've learned to be kind. 

It's easy to sit back and think, "I hope I never get a kid like that." 

I hope you don't, either, just because it isn't always easy. But I'm here to tell you that a kid like that can love with the force of a supernova. And kid like that has a lot to teach you, and the rest of the world.


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