Prior to becoming a parent, I had visions of being a model parent with a model kid. People told me – and I believed them – that I’d be a great parent because I was quirky and fun. I expected to be the mom that my mother was to me: sometimes not my favorite person, but always there and up for a good game.
I would observe other parents with their kids. Oh, I’d do better than them. Why can’t they just control their children? That kid having a temper tantrum? Yeah, I would just talk to my kid and the problem would be averted. In my mind, all any kid ever needed was a good rational explanation. My kids would be perfect.Yes, you know where this is going, but it’s worse than that. Parenting is nothing like what I expected. But what I really didn’t count on was having a special needs child.
My son is on the autism spectrum (though he may be moved to the diagnosis of ‘social communication disorder’ with the new DSM 5. Whatever. You probably have some sense of what this is.
The problem is, being rational doesn’t work. Explaining to him that his behavior effects other people doesn’t work. I mean it does. He knows that he shouldn’t wave his fingers in other people’s faces. He knows that poking is not welcome. He knows that screeching is not OK. But he still does these things because they bring him happiness and comfort and doesn’t see how something he likes could possibly upset someone else.
How does this look to outsiders? This kid is completely disrespectful. But if you knew him, you’d know he loves everybody. He just doesn’t know how to express it in a way that works for both him and for other people. He’s like that big, happy Labrador retriever. He will practically lay on you to show his affection, and when he’s sent away, he feels like he’s being punished.
Then there’s the strong and negative behaviors that cause so much disruption. When he’s agitated he gets downright violent. It’s scary. It frightens other kids in his school. He has to be in a special class with special aides to make sure everyone is safe.
Today, I had to go get him from school because he was so out of control. (He’s fine now, as I’m writing this.)
Others see our seeming inability to control these tantrums as going ‘too easy’ on him. Maybe we should try stronger, more painful punishments. A spanking is what is called for, they think.
If they ask, I explain his disorder. I explain that things can escalate, and we have to be patient and accommodating, or things will never get done. We have to tolerate what others would consider intolerable because there’s simply no alternative. We can’t hide under a rock. We have to go outside and into public places. We have to be patient or it will get worse.
Usually, once people know, they back down. Now that I know what autism and ADHD can look like, I find myself a lot more patient with other people’s kids too. There are lots of invisible disorders. Maybe we should assume one exists before faulting the parents. After all, we’re all just doing the best that we can with the tools we’ve been given.
Ten years ago, I envisioned the perfect kid and me the perfect mom. Now, I’m that parent with that kid (who is currently singing Justin Bieber. Why???) My son is in the special ed class. My son rides the short bus.
But he’s wonderful and loving and creative and very intelligent. He’s also healthy. He’s everything you could want in a child. He’s just a little disconnected from time-to-time.
It took me a long time to accept that it wasn’t my fault. I know I’m not perfect. Some days are harder than others. Today is one of those days.
Tomorrow will be better.
Since this felt like a bit of a downer, check out the amazing photos my son takes: