Last Thursday, was my middle son’s 11th birthday. As the date was approaching, a lot of thoughts were running through my mind about him. Time has surely flied. Just yesterday, he was a gorgeous little baby with light brown hair in my arms and now, a super handsome boy on the verge to become a young man.
I already started noticing the physical changes in his body. I realized that he is also noticing them and he isn’t very sure how to react to them. If you have a neuro-typical or high-functioning child that is about to enter puberty, you can probably sit down and explain what puberty is all about and let them know in advance the changes they will experience, etc. So they can be ready. But what about those children who are on the other side of the Autism spectrum?
This is the case of my middle son. He is always on my mind. When I am up, when I am asleep, when I cannot sleep, in my dreams… he is always there. As his mom, I deeply worry about him because unlike his brothers, he is the one who is still struggling to communicate verbally. His innocence and unawareness about the real dangers in this world makes him extremely vulnerable. What will happen to him when we are no longer here? This is the question that takes away my sleep at night, or when I have nightmares where someone dares to hurt him and I am not there to protect him.
But despite all the challenges my boy faces every day, he is always eager to learn. His beautiful smile is so captivating that melts my heart. He sees beauty and happiness in everything he sees. He has taught me the meaning of contentment by teaching me to be happy about the simple things in life.
He has made remarkable progress throughout the years and I couldn’t be more proud. I love him so very much, to the entire universe and back.
AN AMAZING SURPRISE
On his birthday, something truly terrific happened. For most people with neuro-typical children, it is just an ordinary event but for parents of special needs children it is a big accomplishment that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
He went out for the first time to a real restaurant and guess what? He did so great, so very great. He sat down patiently while the waiter took our order. Then continued waiting until his meal arrived. When the food reached, he took his fork and knife very carefully and ate all his food so perfectly, like the true little gentleman he is. He was not overwhelmed or stressed. He was very happy. The people, the lights and noise didn’t bother him in the least. He wasn’t in a rush to leave and he didn’t have any meltdowns. It has been a while since he had one.
Most people do not know, but these accomplishments did not happen overnight. They took eleven years of hard work and constant dedication to reach this very moment.
HOW ALL STARTED
Things haven’t been easy. When he was younger we had to hold him very tight so he didn’t hurt himself or others. He would have huge meltdowns if his routine changed. Back then, he didn’t know the meaning of days and months so he was constantly anxious and stressed about what will happen the next day. It took a whole year and more to just teach him the meaning of time.
He didn’t know how to self-regulate, so he went through some serious and constant meltdowns at home and in the middle of the grocery store or anywhere we went. He would cry non-stop, kick, bite, or shout if he saw a fly buzzing around or something changed. I can only describe those years as very stressful but that is only an understatement.
However, it didn’t stop us. We knew that if he had to live in a neuro-typical setting we needed to expose him to those same exact situations over and over again. As he got used to these activities, the meltdowns decreased significantly. Also, just like his older brother, he couldn’t sleep well at night so we went through sleepless nights for many, many years.
One day, when we had no choice but to take a taxi back home he became so upset at the unexpected change that he had this huge meltdown inside the taxi. It was one of the worse meltdowns I have ever seen. It was what we call “The Hulk moment”. This also triggered our youngest to have a meltdown. I was extremely concerned when I saw him opening the car door while in movement. Other drivers passing by were watching us, wondering what was happening. I think they thought we were kidnapping them. Little did they know that these were the things we were going through almost every day.
He was also extremely rigid on his daily routine (Any interruption would lead to a huge meltdown) and needed a visual schedule of all the activities and meals for the entire week. He no longer needs it. As he started maturing, we worked very hard at his adaptability factor and we changed his schedule many times (On purpose) to work on his flexibility. It wasn’t easy at first but again, exposure has been key. Nowadays, we just tell him what activity will take place the next day and he is okay with that. If there is any change, he is able to manage it well and cope in a positive manner. It took many years to accomplish this.
When I looked at him in awe in that restaurant, I thought to myself “Autism, take that!”
He can use the computer better than I do, he is learning how to do multiplication and can easily add and subtract with his mind. His sense of direction is also incredible (I am directionally challenged so I am so grateful I have him around to guide me when we travel)! He has taught me that communication is way more than words and sometimes, things just take a little (Or a very long) time to achieve and its perfectly okay. There isn’t a bus to catch or a race to finish. It is just him enjoying the journey and learning at his own speed.
Even though, I will always worry about him and his brothers my heart melts with joy in situations when I see how much progress he has made. Just like the rest of parents with wonderful children like him, there is so much work behind the scenes and years invested in accomplishing ONE little task that most people take for granted – I know exactly what it is like, however changes seldom happen overnight, so when that accomplishment becomes tangible like it happened at that restaurant with my son; it becomes a true moment in time to be remembered.
LET CHILDREN EVOLVE
The thing I have discovered about Autism and my sons is that with time they evolve but always, at their own time and speed. Patience is key and sometimes it takes long years.
I believe it is extremely important to not ever limit them or judge their potential/ability based on their diagnosis or opinion of others. Our children were born to SHINE and EXCEL no matter who tells you otherwise. Believe it, and your child will feel it. Believe it, work hard and you will see the changes happening over time.
No matter how small those changes might be or how long it takes, be happy. Your child is trying his/her very best and should be praised and acknowledged at all times. Treat accomplishments as accomplishments rather than label them as small or big. What we see as small may be huge in the world of Autism. Be the positive change you want to see in your child. Remember, as parents we are our little ones number one fans.
OUR ATTITUDE DETERMINES OUR ALTITUDE
We all know it isn’t easy. Even though I know we are all exhausted, stressed and many times discouraged I also know we CAN do it. Do not ever think that the great milestones I am writing right about now might never happen to your child. Start by thinking POSITIVELY and POSITIVITY will follow.
Autism wants to take my children back to its own world on a daily basis; it is a constant battle between Autism and me. But let me tell you…this blooded-Italian descendant, don’t ever go down with a fight. I was born a soldier and I have fought into this battle for way too long to ever give up. There isn’t time to feel sorry for myself or my children. It is time to continue working hard and pushing until another accomplishment like the one last Thursday takes place.
If Autism was a football player, he would probably be Cristiano Ronaldo but guess who I am? Lionel Messi *wink* And I don’t have to tell you who WILL win this match.