Steele LT Football players

Five Years Beyond Autism Diagnosis: High Hopes & Happiness

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, thanks to a very intense full-time job. I love it, but it certainly takes up most of my time. Anyway, for those of you that have followed MommyQ, you know I have an autistic son. He was diagnosed at the age of three and now he’s eight years old! Wow! Over the last five years, I’ve talked to so many parents about autism. The one piece of advice I give over and over again is, “Take it one day at a time.”  There’s no need to worry needlessly into the future, because it does nothing for you. Make each day count and be thankful for every milestone. It may sound too simple, but when you’re trying to live in the moment, simple is good.

If you had asked me where my son would be now as far as school, sports, etc, my outlook was originally bleak. Not because I’m a pessimistic person, but because autism is such a mysterious reality. The good news is he’s doing great. (You can see his smiling face in the photo above – he’s in the light blue shirt, posing with our high school football team.) Thanks to a solid support system of friends, family and community, he is thriving.  He learns in a regular classroom with one-on-one help as needed. He reads, writes, does math and enjoys science. He’s faster on a computer or iPhone/iPad than I am. He can play tennis and soccer and swims like a fish. A few months ago, he started Kung Fu and today his skills are impressive, not to mention he uses a staff. It’s like having my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! He’s learning a routine for his school’s Talent Show, so I’m very excited for him.

I remember the days when he hardly spoke, couldn’t complete directions, didn’t take interest in the world around him and had minimal physical strength. He existed in his own world and we desperately fought to bring him out of it. Today, he’s a normal kid who loves chocolate cake, hates cauliflower, fights with his little brother and blushes when a female classmate gives him a hug. His perspective of the world will always be different, but different isn’t bad. I’ve learned that a big dose of hope brings happiness. Keep your chin up.

autistic child on stage

My Son is an Elephant: Autism Takes Center Stage

 

autism takes the stage

My tall, skinny son looked rather comical in his worn, gray, jersey-knit bodysuit with his silly elephant nose made out of a dryer tube wrapped in silver electrical tape and a big pillow stuffed down the front of his outfit. He looked goofy and frumpy, which was exactly how he was supposed to look. The room was fully of excited children and glittery outfits – clown suits, ringmaster vests, acrobat leotards and funny props. And my son was a fat, gray elephant. I was very proud.

It was the annual kindergarten performance and I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t worried about my son goofing up his lines, because he didn’t have any lines. I wasn’t worried about him making a mistake, because at that age, mistakes are pretty darn cute. I was worried about how he would handle the things I couldn’t anticipate. When you have an autistic child, you recognize the situations that may be uncomfortable or overwhelming, and you plan ahead to avoid them. If it’s going to be loud, you pack the soundproof headphones. If it’s going to be crowded, you go early to avoid crowds. The truth is, when you’re dealing with autism you just never know. And in this instance, I knew nothing.

My son and I practiced his little routine at home and I gave him verbal reassurance about the on-stage experience. No matter how much I prepped him, I realized he didn’t fully grasp what I was trying to convey. This is what autism is all about and this why it’s so tricky. The one thing I didn’t want him to experience on-stage was fear. It was impossible for me to imagine how he would process and handle the stage, the lights, the audience and the huge auditorium.

While I was pinning his bulky elephant costume closed, I kept telling him to have fun and not worry if he made a mistake. He smiled and said, “okay, mama!” I gave him a big hug and went to my seat in the second row. To many onlookers, I probably appeared to a normal, nervous, stage mom who secretly yearned for her child to steal the show. The reality of the situation couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The show was adorable and eventually, it was time for his act to perform. I could see the expression on his face as he stepped on-stage to the sea of faces looking back at him. He was scanning the unfamiliar faces for a familiar one – his mommy. As soon as he saw me waving at him, he waved back. I knew he would be fine. And he was. He sailed through his routine without a hitch. I was overcome with happiness, hope and of course, pride. My head was cheering, “He did it! He did it!” and then it happened…

All of the children, about 138 kiddos, gathered on-stage together for one final song. After the first few notes rang out, my son covered his ears and crouched down, putting his elbows on his knees. I panicked. My husband, who was sitting next to me, noticed too. We watched as he stood up and then resumed his position, blocking out his surroundings. It was too much and he was panicking. The lights, the noise, the camera flashes, the people, the stage. “Go help him!” I instinctively said to my husband, practically jumping out of my seat “No,” he said calmly, yet fearfully. “He’s handling it.”

The song seemed to last forever and while all of the other little faces sang happily and parents took tons of pictures, my son’s little face was hidden. It didn’t help that he was standing on the first row, front and center. On the bright side, as soon as the song ended he popped back up and smiled, enjoying the accolades from all of the parents. He didn’t cry, he didn’t run and he didn’t mentally checkout. He survived it in his own way. Yep, he handled it after all. What a star!

Read more about living with autism in my Advocate Mommy section.

 

Image: Mina Laben

Living With Autism Diagnosis: One Year Later

MommyQ is about to reach an important milestone in her mommy life. It has been almost one year since I first blogged about my son’s autism diagnosis. My first post about his diagnosis, Autism Means My Son Is Happy When He’s Flappy, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Yes, it was even harder than all of my college research papers and I was an English major, so there were plenty of those.

It is not just an important anniversary for me, but for my entire family. As for my son, he’s doing swimmingly. Literally! This summer he started taking private swimming lessons and it’s as if he was born to swim. His long, lean body glides through the water with grace and ease. His instructor is constantly amazed at his natural aptitude for it. We have to keep a very close eye on him because he thinks he can do anything in the water, which is good and bad. It will be exciting to see how well he does next summer.

His communication skills have improved so much over the past year. He asks for what he wants, identifies his feelings, interacts with others and asks about his surroundings. Thanks to my mother’s influence, he has exceptional manners too. He has fully mastered potty training with not even one accident! He and his little brother are the best of friends and play wonderfully together. He has developed a terrific sense of humor and can be quite the entertainer at times. We couldn’t be more proud.

While we are thankful for all of his accomplishments, living with autism is not easy. I still find myself wondering if he was born normal and a vaccine changed him forever.  I feel frustrated when I can’t understand him and I feel sad when I realize I may never see the world as he sees it. Thinking about the future and whether or not he’ll be fully independent one day, is too much to handle. The day a teacher, classmate or friend makes him feel inferior in any way haunts me. My brain reminds me, “One day at a time. Take it one day at a time.” My son’s smiling face and big hugs speak volumes. Tomorrow is a new day!

If you’d like to read my previous posts about autism, you can find the links below or just click on “Advocate Mommy” for all posts:

-Autism Rides Off Into The Sunset
-Swallow Your Pride: Get Your Toddler Speech Therapy