I was reflecting on a Facebook post from two years ago. I’m regurgitating some of it here.
Our home isn’t just autism aware for one month. I know it’s in my home. It’s like the alarm clock that won’t shut off and reminds you it’s not dead every nine minutes. I don’t hide my kids. I like to think of each melt down, escape from overstimulation or apology I utter as teaching others that I am in fact autism aware. I occasionally enjoy the apologies that shame others for their ignorance. (I’m not always nice when you poke the sleeping bear’s children.)
It’s not enough to know autism is creeping into more homes. It’s not enough to know what characteristics to look for and hold your parenting ideals against another parent who faces things you are lucky enough to never know. Accept what is different without trying to figure out how to make someone else fit who you think they should be. Offer to babysit. There is no greater gift than knowing your child is with someone they love and you trust while you can just be. And it’s not personal if they decline your offer. It means they care about the people they are responsible for. This applies to any person trusted with the care of a person who cannot take care of their own needs. I need to know you would act in gentleness, even if my child is having a meltdown and acting out in aggression. I may know and love you, but that does not mean I will trust you with my children.
Yesterday I spent most of the day at a birthday party for my niece and kid brother, both turning 11 this month. My kids were with their Dad. I was in a mood all day and it wasn’t pretty. I used to say I hate kids because they were so needy, and one of my sisters thought I was back to that yesterday, but this trauma runs deeper than preference.
Most of the kids at the party were neurotypical. There was one child with autism there. His mom and I both have two kids with autism, one more severe than the other. She has thicker skin than I do. I heard him in the throes of a meltdown, and I came running with my hackles raised, and ready to cut a kid (not necessarily, but the rage potential was primed). There’s a unique dynamic when you throw an autistic child into a group of neurotypical kids without an explanation. They sense something is off, and bullying starts because they don’t understand the autistic child is already othered, and they need to mark the differences to separate themselves from it. It’s a moment of playground survival and it’s usually at the expense of the child who misses every single social cue. They can always find the most vulnerable in the pack, isolate and annihilate them. It’s like blood in shark infested waters. They sense something different and their jump house play starts to look like the moon bounce mafia. They turn gangster. With all of the gangbangers I dated, and even the one I married, gang life was about creating a family to fill the void of the families they were born into. There was a bond or unity they missed and they tried to fix it with friends and an idea of earning a place of safety. Family bonding meant bullying anyone who wasn’t family. How is that for family value systems? I was fried by the end of the day, and after giving myself several time outs, I had to leave early. I didn’t go to the beach, I went home and fell asleep in exhaustion.
Over the years, I’ve met a few kids that were genuinely sweet, nurturing, and articulate. They were usually wise and well spoken and extremely observant. They have a hunger for connection and will often say the most humbling things. They are sometimes emotionally neglected and forced to mature quickly. Those kids are amazing and some have remarkable parents, but others are beautiful human beings that bloom in spite of their parents.
I’m paranoid about my kids playing with other kids. It’s a problem but it’s my problem. I took my kids to a kid party once. They were playing a game where my child was on all fours, pretending to be a dog while the other kids laughed at him. My son didn’t understand how it was a problem that he was the only dog on a leash being petted. We left and I cut all ties with that mother who probably didn’t even know what I was upset about. I drove home, crying for my sons as they sat in confusion. I was babysitting one summer and the kid I watched was with me while mine were in summer school. At first his competitive streak and being unable to lose annoyed me, but it wasn’t a big deal. He was a kid and kids do what they do. I pitied him. We drove down the street one afternoon and saw a man on a bike. I live in a neighborhood transitioning into trendy gentrification, but it’s still primarily low income and hispanic. This child’s bigotry took on adult tones and after that summer, I was fine with never speaking with his father again. Some things are taught intentionally to our children, other things through careful observation of what is modeled to them. Bigotry is taught. Homophobia is taught. I did my best to shift his perspective, but I knew I couldn’t replace the anger his parents fed him.
I will be the first person to tell you there is no such thing as a bad child. There are children that need love and attention and if the only attention they can get is negative, they will still do all they can to get it. I always tell my kids they are doing what they are supposed to do. They are being kids and nothing is wrong with that. My ability to deal with it is what changes and when I yell or snap, it’s a failure on my part, not theirs.
I was having a discussion today with my Dad about my codependency. I was determined to share my thoughts and feelings, no matter the cost or how much I was afraid to reveal. He asked if I ever told my Mom how I felt about their divorce. I told him I didn’t have the words, but she saw it when I kicked a dent in her car door while barefoot. I showed her when I broke a wooden baseball bat over my desk. I showed her with my house parties she couldn’t control, but I couldn’t tell her. The way I was raised never offered that permission.
I am raising codependents. It’s a cycle I’m working on breaking in my own life because it’s a change worth making for my children.
When I turned 18 and my Dad filled in my voter sample ballot, it told me that my opinions didn’t matter. I went from following his leadership to the next man to lead me because I was taught to do what the husband/father/person with the penis says. For years I looked for a person to lead me because I wasn’t really sure I could do it on my own. I would enter relationship after relationship, believing that the person I chose to lead me would have my best interests in mind, even if I thought he was being dumb. (This is not about today’s political climate. I promise.) It often looked like lip service, while I did what I wanted, hiding my choices in shame and deceit. We all have natural consequences for our actions and I invariably did my best to protect many men from theirs. I danced on eggshells at my own expense because I was more worried about how he would feel and react, than the fact that I had to hide and lie about what I thought and felt. All of my romantic relationships mirrored my relationships with my parents. I often have a hard time seeing where they ended and I began because I needed to make things okay for everyone. It’s a self inflicted pressure they could never imagine. My Dad has told me that he learned how to parent with his sister, and my oldest sister after that. I pointed out he learned from them, without unlearning from his parents first. Ouch. I’ve set walls about me and I’m breaking them with jabs, punches, and kicks in every belief I let shape me.
The cycle is renewing itself in my children. I want to shelter and protect them, but that removes them from the natural consequences of human interaction and learning from the boundaries they attempt to push. I don’t quite know what is preference and what is need when it comes to sensory integration dysfunction, social anxieties and what it is to be autistic. I have a hard wired need to do what I think is best to help and nurture them, and I call it protection, but it’s setting them up for splendid failure. I see it and I’m trying to get the conductor to stop this train and I’m not sure how we can disembark from this journey. At the same time, their individual brilliance has taught them to manipulate my fears into what suits their desires. I expect too little and they prey on my expectations to manipulate their environment. Never underestimate an autistic person. Their beguiling brilliance will enchant you before they abuse and reduce you to tears. Never dismiss their needs because as difficult as it is for me to help them navigate our world, they face the most difficulty in just being and trying to do so in a way that is socially acceptable. My kids are praised because of how well they are doing, but it often includes a complete collapse at the end of the day because they have been working so hard just to be perceived as what we consider normal. We need to remember that autistic and neurotypical are both normal and natural.