Please Be Seated

It’s Spring Break.  Which means the kids don’t have school until next week Tuesday.

Forgive me for not jumping for joy.

Any change in routine can be really difficult for those on the autism spectrum, and my kids are no exception.  This particular “vacation” might be even more problematic than most, since we are working on many home improvements right now.  There are boxes and bins everywhere, and we are not able to give the kids 100% of our attention since we are working on so many things.  We are putting off painting and other big projects until they go back to school, but for now, many projects are half-completed and our house is rather chaotic.  Juliette tends to be the most happy-go-lucky and easily adaptable of our clan, so she is weathering the changes gracefully.  Lennon and I….not so much.

Today, we escaped together and went out to lunch at our favorite little burger joint.  Eating out at a restaurant is another event that can be difficult for autistic people.  I’m never quite sure how it will go with my kids.  Generally either amazingly well….or really horrific.  And there’s no way to know which it will be until we get there.

Luckily, this time we showed up right as the restaurant was opening, and there were only a couple of cars in the parking lot.  Still, Lennon looked rather unsettled as we walked in.  The quick transitions of going from the car, to outside, then into a brightly lit restaurant are somewhat jarring.  We walked past a signpost that read “PLEASE BE SEATED,” and Lennon asked if he could choose our table.  “Sure,” I said.  “Why not?”

I watched as his eyes scanned the dining room.  Two tables were taken, and the patrons were having conversations.  Loud old school gangsta rap (edited versions,thankfully) blared through the surround sound speakers.  Servers and bussers were bustling about.  Lennon was getting the familiar glazed look in his eyes.  He was overwhelmed and starting to shut down.  I saw his eyes settle on the big curved booth in the corner, you know, the ones that are intended for larger parties?  He asked if we could sit there.  I told him that we should probably save that booth for a bigger family, since it was just him and I today.  He looked at me, his eyes piercing, pleading.  “Please, mom?  Please.”

I wasn’t sure why it was so important to him, but I obliged.  He practically ran to the booth and nestled himself into the corner part of the booth.  He exhaled audibly and I watched his body relax.  And then I understood.  With the way the booth curved around, when he was positioned in the corner, he was nearly enclosed on all sides.  This was an ingenious way to block out the onslaught of sensory input around us.

We went on to have a really nice lunch together.  And, later, in the car on the way home, we had another of our really great car talks.  This time, a conversation about the PC version of Minecraft turned into a discussion about how each member of our family has different talents, and also different things that don’t come easily to us.  I told him how I’ve always been clumsy and not very coordinated, and gym class was a nightmare for me, but I am good at drawing.  Daddy knows a ton about technology and building and repairing computers, but he’s not a great typist.  I told him to take pride in the things he is good at, and try not to get down on himself for things that may not come as easily.  Also, it is perfectly acceptable – in fact, commendable – to ask for help with things that we struggle with.

It was a nice little impromptu pep talk, but I’m not sure my advice was really even necessary.  Because I had just watched him put it into practice.  That one moment, where he insisted on sitting at that one specific table, was self-advocacy at its finest.  As he gets older, I observe him identifying and meeting his own needs, and asking for assistance when necessary.  And these seemingly small things are really quite HUGE.

My boy is growing up.

I am so very proud of him.

{ Image is a photo of Lennon, sitting in the corner of the booth at the restaurant, giving me his sweet little smile }



Because genetics

YES!!!  This.  So much this.  I gave my child autism.  But not because of anything I did wrong.  Because genetics.

When Juliette was diagnosed with educational autism by the school district (her official medical diagnosis came later), I was eight months pregnant with Baby Roland.  I left the school meeting, got into my car, dialed Jacob’s number with shaky fingers, and when he answered, I sobbed “they said she has AUTISM.”

Autism.  That one word held so much weight.  It threatened to crush me.

I had known it was likely coming, but still….I’d been holding onto a glimmer of hope that it might be ANYTHING but autism.  Because autism….well, that seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen to your child.  The big, horrible, looming epidemic just waiting in the wings to snatch your child away.

I went through the next few months kind of in a fog.  The weight on my chest remained.  I lost myself in research.  I devoured every book in the library about autism and scoured every corner of the internet.  I read about many potential causes of autism, and many potential “cures.”  I read about diets, and therapies, and supplements.  I read about all the things I could have done differently in order to have prevented having my autistic child.  I felt….lost.  I felt…ashamed.  I guess I had caused this.  This big, horrible, awful thing in our lives.  I did this to my child because I am not a good enough mother.  I had failed her.

In my relentless researching, I had read all about Asperger’s Syndrome, and the books read like a guide to Lennon.  My son is definitely the highly gifted, “little professor” type with specialized interests.  So, now I knew I had two autistic children, and another likely on the way.  You see, I had read that boys are at a much higher risk of developing autism, and siblings of children on the spectrum are also at a much higher risk.  The weight grew heavier as my belly grew larger.

In the midst of all this fear and self-loathing, I had a baby.  When he was born, he opened up his huge brown eyes and looked right into mine.  He was beautiful.  He was perfect.  I looked at him, and wondered, “Are you autistic?  Have I failed you too?”

The next few months were a blur of sleeplessness, hormones, horrifically painful post-partum carpal tunnel syndrome, and post-partum depression.  The weight was still there.  I didn’t know if it would ever lift.

You know what saved me?  My children saved me.  I truly LOOKED at them…at who they are inside.  I simply couldn’t look at these beautiful, vibrant little human beings I had created and equate them with tragedy.  They are not anything to be ashamed of.  I hadn’t failed.  I was completely winning.

In them, I see so much of myself.  From Juliette’s highly selective and ritualized eating habits, to Roland’s timidness with strangers, to Lennon’s penchant for correcting people’s grammar.  They are definitely mine.  I started to realize that I HAD caused my children’s autism, but not because of my choices while pregnant, my parenting skills, or our diets.  None of that mattered.  I made them autistic, because I am autistic too.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  We are a family of wonderfully quirky people.  We don’t need to be cured or “healed.”  We are perfect the way we are.  What my children need is love and acceptance, and they will ALWAYS get that in our family.  As for the rest of the world….well, I can only hope that the foundation of love and trust that we are building within our family will be enough to carry my children through the hard times.

And as for the weight?  It has lifted.  My heart only holds joy for my wonderful, magical children.

My children saved me.  And not only that, they helped me find myself.  I will be forever grateful.  ❤

{ Image is a photo of me and my three beautiful babies.  Lennon and Juliette are kissing my cheeks.  Roland is in my lap, looking straight at the camera. }

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