Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Have We Come Far Enough?

 It’s hard to say how I feel a lot of the time. My experience is simply that; my experience. But I’m feeling less and less like “autism mom” these days.
 Wylie has blossomed over the last few months. He is delayed. He is autistic. Um. But. I don’t know. I don’t think I worry about him in the same way.
There’s so much to come, no doubt. I’m not saying this is the end of our journey. But he has been doing ABA for almost two years now. He is initiating social interactions with other children. He knows enough academically to participate in preschool. I’ve always had a “go-with-the-flow” personality—which has left me super anxious with the arrival of my first child, and the arrival of a diagnosis I was completely unprepared for 2 years ago. But I’m ready to give in to my natural instinct. I’m ready to just not worry so much about it.
 Wylie is coming in and out of the room right now. He’s playing. Gave up on the iPad for a second (there are zero autism related apps on it- he likes to bowl, or watch old Doritos superbowl comercials. I never realized how many dogs were in Doritos superbowl comercials.) I asked him if he wanted to finish his chicken. “It’s too hot!” he said.
  “Nuh uh, it’s not too hot, it’s been sitting here for a while, dude.”
    “…it’s too cold.”
    Uh huh. Smart ass.
   He’s too cute. I don’t know who taught him to exclaim “Potty time!” as he rushes off to the bathroom. Yes, it is indeed potty time. I was sort of flabbergasted at how smoothly potty training has gone. He was a little resistant in the beginning, but a few weeks of less than intensive training, and he’s a big boy now, I guess.
  I worried about it. I dragged my feet with starting it. And the director of his school shot me an email. The gist was, “Dude, potty train your kid. He’s going to real school soon, and he should be potty trained.” So we collaborated with the school and boom. Potty time.
  Have I been underestimating Wylie? If anything, I’ve always thought of myself as overly optimistic. I happily go on thinking about how great Wylie is. Brilliant. And then somebody says they are struggling with some concept Wylie is NOWHERE NEAR, like answering “why” questions. What the heck. That would go way over his head.
    And then the director! The Benevolent One. Always suggesting he’s not really that autistic. I’ve pretty much thought she was nuts. I mean. Her plans for Wylie have been GENIUS. She is always a few steps ahead of me. Very professional. Very insightful. But duh, Wylie’s autistic. Look, he’s flapping. He’s on his toes. He’s not talking that much. We had to TEACH him eye contact. Wylie is autistic. No doubt about it.
   So when she called a meeting with me to “discuss the future” I knew what was coming. I half joked to the family that she was “kicking us out” of her school. My father scoffed. “He’s not ready for regular preschool.” An idea she had already brought up once before.
    All I could do was sigh. I don’t know. When she brought up the idea a year ago, I thought, hmm, maybe plausible. I was just hopeful, and a professional was telling me it may be possible. Then he started attending “pre-preschool” and he had a bit of a rocky start. Well, no. That’s too harsh. There were issues that only became apparent to me when he started attending the program. How behind he is on being able to dress and undress himself. How limited his diet was. The fact that he wasn’t potty trained.
  But now? He’s getting better at self care- not perfect, but the practice alone has made a huge difference. His language has really flourished and I’ve been unable to catch up with it. A few months ago we weren’t even really saying sentences and now these phrases blurt out of him without hesitation. “Turn the light off!” he squeals. “Oooh, that’s scary!” “Mommy, I’m going upstairs. Come on.” “No, no bath yet. We watch this.” Yeah, he’s adorable.
        I went to see her and we had a long conversation. I demanded to know from her, what sets Wylie apart from all those other kids? Who talk more, listen better, eat better. And as we talked, and she explained, I realized how blind I had been, to ignore the very nature of autism. That all these children I have observed over the years- they are all unique, and all have their own strengths, and yeah, their own struggles, as well.
        He’s flexible, you know. Not very rigid at all. He fits in well with this family- we’re pretty laid back that way. He behaves incredibly well at school, and can follow basic directions. He’s bright- I mean, he just picks up on things very naturally. And she said that was one of the biggest things that made her think he was ready for regular school. She said, “You know… he knows how to learn. We’re beyond having to teach him.” And I knew exactly what she meant.
     “The other thing,” she said, “is how he has formed peer relationships, and he looks to his peers to learn now. He didn’t always do that, you know.”
         Well, yeah, I know. Somewhere in the last several months, Wylie started to figure out other children were good for something. He started to like to play with them, and imitate them. In fact, the honest truth is he started picking up autistic behaviors because he was copying his peers. Haha. No biggie. He talks about all his friends at home, and he’s very popular when I bring him in in the mornings. I mean, really. He always starts something fun. My kid makes other kids smile. I’m so proud.
  I started to become more comfortable with her ideas. I know my kid. I know he will be receptive to his peers as models for him. I think he’ll start to catch up with more practice. I just have seen things come so easily for him that I believe he will meet us wherever we set our expectations.
       So that’s where I am, right now. No guarantee that’s where I’ll stay, but for now, there you have it.

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