This is Autism.
It’s what was going through my mind Tuesday morning when Carson was having a meltdown.
Autism presents itself uniquely in each kid, confirming the term “spectrum” is apt. The traits of each special needs individual can vary greatly. Autism looks different every day. Some days are better than others.
As April is Autism Awareness Month, I thought I would share this most recent experience with our 11-year-old Carson. Before I do, it’s important to clarify there are far more good days than bad days with our kid. His blessings are far greater than his shortcomings. He’s probably the most influential person in my life because I have learned more from him than anyone else. He has taught me a host of life lessons through what he requires of me and his mom for success.
Tuesday started like most days. The early mornings are always a little hectic with two boys, ages 12 and 11, heading off to school. One difference on this day was Carson, who seemed off as soon as he came downstairs a little after 6 a.m. He was clearly sad about going back to school after a long weekend. He was teary from the moment he got up but had a full crying fit (the first I can recall in months) as I was helping him get dressed. He had lost his composure.
This was worst case scenario minutes before leaving for school. Taking him to school in a meltdown is not an option. I tried all the typically successful things to get him in a good place on the way to school, including letting him pick the silly music. It’s always fun seeing what he selects, ranging from country music and love songs to rap and R&B. He typically picks music I don’t like, turns my car seat to cold and puts my steering wheel warmer on.
Whatever it takes to get him into school in the best place possible is the goal. Humor is always the trick. As we drove to school Tuesday with huge tears, I was getting desperate. I first offered to park at my office and make the walk to school. He liked the idea, but it seemed a little too far for his taste. We ultimately opted to park at a nearby bank. I even got a first day of school photo with him in front of the bank. It did the trick. We made the walk to school giggling and he was able to walk into school as if all was right in the world. It was a major relief.
The morning summed up Autism. I don’t know what exactly was bothering him. He’s nonverbal so he will not articulate it. My guess is he just didn’t want to go to school after having a few days off. He knew he was going to have to go to school and he was upset. We powered through it together, but I still don’t know what was worrying him.
Though it was confusing and upsetting at the time, I can’t help but marvel over how far Casron has come. There have been times in the past when I needed a teacher to come out to the car to help get him into school. There have been other days when a particularly rough morning led to us deciding he needed the day off.
There was a time when I would have been weak and not pushed him on mornings likes this week. I think I am better now at being patient and flexible. Like Pam, I have learned how to bring out his best, but he truly deserves the credit. He overcame and pushed through his displeasure with going to school. It was a big deal. It was worthy of reflecting on and celebrating this incredible turnabout in a matter of minutes. He went from slobbering and crying to laughing and composed in five minutes. This is Autism. It rears its ugly head at the most unexpected times and constantly keeps us on our toes.
This particular situation on the way to school was a win for me. I felt great that I was able to deflect and dissolve what was a horrible situation. He was a wreck, but I pivoted and was a flexible thinker. Though it was a traumatic time, the way he and I overcame the rough start made me feel wonderful. It was a winning moment.
Carson’s gifts to me, and I like to think my son and wife, are patience, perspective and gratitude. He has come so far and overcome so much. I will never underestimate him because he proves us wrong whenever we do. However, I also do not want to burden him with the same expectations we have for his neurotypical older brother. It would be unfair. His life will be different, but I know Carson will write a wonderful story.
One of the reasons I write this column is to document he and his brother’s lives for them. One day they will read these columns with an appreciation because most of what’s included on a weekly basis they will probably forget. I selfishly write it for a similar reason – to remind me of what we have gone through together every step of the way.
As we think each April about Autism, I want to be honest. Autism is not the parenting journey I would have picked if given a choice. Nobody would intentionally pick it. Naturally, I do have moments of anger and pity at times, but there’s never regret. My frustrations, at times, arise more over my own inability and shortcomings to adequately help Carson at all times. It’s never about him. There are many instances in life when choices are not ours to make. Because of the difficulties of our individual journey, I believe God made the decision to put Autism in our lives through Carson. The fact he was adopted at birth only deepens our faith he’s with us for a reason.