Never Underestimate the Abilities of Your Autistic Child
Special needs parents have diverse perspectives surrounding the Autism "cure debates" and around our beliefs of our children’s level of understanding of the said topic.
Some believe if there were to be a cure it'd be the children's choice to take it, not the parents’ choice to give. Some feel the mere thought of a cure to be preposterous and somewhat insulting. Then there are those that would give their children a cure in a second-if they could, without asking them their opinion. Your stance depends highly on the path you have taken with your child, not to mention the path that was taken while raising you. I've always swayed towards it being insulting and it being purely my son's decision, never being sure if I was on the right side of the line.
Always leaning more towards it being his choice though. Then again, I often questioned whether my child would understand the gravity of a situation such as a cure, or even what Autism is. My stance on that topic changed a few years back, in five minutes time. You see, while making our way through the produce department in our local grocery store my son said a few things that changed my life and my perception of his self-awareness forever.
He was abnormally chatty all day that day; out of nowhere he asked me if there were "Adult’s [with] Autism?" Of course, I said yes-never before giving a thought to him thinking about adults being Autistic. He then asked if there were "Teen[s] [with] Autism" and "Old[er] [people with] Autism?" Again, I answered yes to both. Deciding at this point that a talk was in order when we got home I tried to carry on with my shopping.
A few moments later he looked me in the eye [which rarely happens] and asked if there was a way to "make it gone." To make it gone! He had thought about not being Autistic. The thought had never, until that moment, crossed my mind- as he is lower functioning. This made me stop and think about all the times that I dismissed things that maybe he did understand more in depth than I thought. This made me question everything. I decided to stop treating him as a baby that day, from then on, he was going to be treated more like a child of his age.
When we arrived home, I sat him down for a grown-up talk. As I explained what exactly Autism is to my 11-year-old his reaction floored me: he dropped his head and looked defeated- let a tear fall and proceeded to knock me back into the reality of his world-- he told me he "HATES Autism!" He went on to say, "People stare," "people no understand [my] words," and "No one sees me." In response to this we spoke about society and his peers, awareness and understanding. We spoke pretty much about it all. I explained that there is no cure and no set treatments that work for every child. That for some parents it’s a time of hit and misses when it comes to finding medications for our children, and even doctors. I answered every question he had and then some.
My son springing this on me unexpectedly got me to thinking, how would his life-our lives- be without Autism? Would things be so different? (YES! Things would be incredibly different without Autism. We benefit as a society from every Autistic mind that we encourage to bloom) Would a cure even be worth trying? I do believe that question is one that has an answer based on pure opinion, based on how you were raised and the journey you have taken with your child. None the less, a fascinating topic to ponder. What would you do if you were faced with this situation?
I've always said I didn't think I'd change him, even if I could; however, given this revelation delivered from my son’s innocent lips 5 years ago- I now often wish it were an option for him, not for me. I've lived as both a mom of a nonverbal severely Autistic child and as a mom of a moderate-severely functioning verbal Autistic child (As Zain did not speak until he was 6-years-old), and now as a mother of a verbal (yet limited) severe-moderately functioning Autistic teenager, and I have loved every moment of it...
However, his lower functioning qualities have given away to a short coming of mine. When my son was a small child he was incredibly violent to himself and to others. He had massive meltdowns and he couldn't speak to tell me why. It was a very challenging time in our lives. It is and was a reality that at that point- our lives were centered around him being stable, not on how he felt about the life he was living.
I probably didn't think about how he felt about what was going on in part because he wasn’t able to tell me for so many years, and in part because given his level of functioning it never crossed my mind he could form an opinion on the given topics to begin with. Shame on me for this. None-the-less, that day in that produce section I realized that I had underestimated my son’s abilities for far too long. That day was a life changer for me. He is cognizant of what is going on around him and with him. He thinks about things such as a cure. Even though that surprised me, it is a valid thought for him to have.
I have to say this: Never take your child's emotions or opinions for granted; whether they can express them or not--they are there. I now know that I did that for far too long. I also know that it will never happen again. The initial shock of him verbalizing such a huge thing to me lasted a while but has since subsided quite a bit. Now it is time to focus on him recognizing the amazing qualities his Autism allows him to possess, the things that raise his spirits about being "different," it's time for him to see a different side of the spectrum. We will talk about a cure the day a cure comes. For now, I’m going to focus on my son and helping him learn to love Autism for all its beauty and rarity.