Just as Rain Man used to be the only movie out there about autism, for the longest time The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was the only novel. Don’t get me wrong, Mark Haddon does a brilliant job with prime-number loving truth-crusading, 15-year-old Christopher Boone. And The Curious Incident is a great story, but it’s not the only story.
I see you in the doctor’s office holding your breath. The room is small and stuffy. You are afraid of what he will say. You are terrified he will confirm your suspicions – that there is something wrong with your beautiful baby – are true. Instead, he reassures you. Come back in a few months, he says. And when you do, your step is light, confident. Your 18-month-old son has so many words now, many more than he did the last time you visited. Maybe your boy is fine after all. You probably overreacted. You’re a first-time mom.
Like a lot of kids (especially those with autism) my son is a picky eater. He's incredibly, sometimes inexplicably, selective about which foods are acceptable. For instance, he loves macaroni and cheese but only if it comes from a box. Any other kind of pasta is strictly off limits. And what was once perfectly palatable to him can change overnight.
Later this afternoon I am headed to pick up a bike rack for the car. And I'm publicly sharing this mundane errand, why? Because if someone had told me six months ago that we'd need a bike rack fitted to our car, I would have snort-laughed. Bicycle rides - as a family? Impossible. That's something other families do. It's an activity (one of many) I had mentally scratched off as being unrealistic or unachievable for us.
By the time you read this, schools across the country will be in full swing. Teachers may be easing into a groove with their new students. But for parents of children with special needs, those initial jitters never truly subside. For every great, gifted educator out there, there are countless others who are clueless and incompetent when it comes to teaching our children in the unique way they need to be taught.
Having a child on the autism spectrum can be a very insular and isolating experience. I spend so much time spilling my own thoughts and experiences as a mom that I sometimes wonder if I am the only one thinking what I'm thinking, feeling what I'm feeling.
Unlike some girls, I hadn’t grown up dreaming of babies, knowing the exact configuration of my future family. In fact, for a long time – even after I got married - babies didn’t really figure. Mr Green and I were happy, financially stable, well-travelled. We even had a dog, a four-legged baby of our own. Still, relatives pestered us to get on with the business of procreating.
Want to know who the world's best parent is? The one who has yet to have a child.
At least I was. Before I had a kid of my own, it was glaringly obvious - all the things parents should and shouldn't do. I tutted under my breath at what I saw at the park, the restaurant, the grocery story. I thought, 'Never will I ever do X with my child.' When it's my turn, I will do Y with my kids and they will be model children.
It's hard to believe it's been almost four year since autism entered my life. And like an unexpected dinner guest that at first is fascinating and charming - but after a while grates on your nerves - it shows no sign of leaving. Ever.
So I've tried my best to get acquainted and be a gracious hostess...er...mom. Raising my son is still a largely mystifying experience, but there are some takeaways I've learned along the way:
When mama goes away, the kids don't always want to play. Sometimes they're upset and distraught, though they may not even realize it.
In the seven years that my son has been on the planet, I have been lucky to be (mostly) around. Working from home, I never suffered the cruel, sudden separation that some moms have to go through when they head back to the office.
And I counted my blessings. My son always parted ways easily for drop-off activities and later, school, safe in the knowledge that I would be back in a few hours to collect him.
It's that time again. April has reared its head, and I'm wondering what to say about autism that hasn't already been said. What could I possibly bring to the table, as a parent, that will make the unaware more aware?
Then I realize I don't have to say anything at all. A 13 year-old girl has summed up what you need to know about autism more eloquently and succinctly than people more than double her age.
Plus, who better to ask about autism than someone who is actually autistic?
It's important, claims David Coleman, that the victim who is being "pushed, poked or tripped in the schoolyard" learns to assert themselves. And I wholly agree - yet there are ways to assert yourself that don't involve throwing punches.
With March Break and *gasp* summer on the horizon, there's a seemingly endless number of activities for families to enjoy. Yet many attractions are simply off limits for families like mine. These destinations are too loud, too crowded, too noisy, too something.
When my son was diagnosed four years ago, I was determined not to let autism limit my family life in any way. We would make our own happy memories, just like everyone else. Wishful thinking on my part.
What's more important to you - your child's IQ or EQ? While a lot of people value intellectual ability because it leads to employment, financial stability and a roof overhead, for some reason I am more concerned with my son's emotional intelligence. After all, no matter smart you are, it means diddly if you are lonely and isolated.
Does your child fear the person in the white coat? Mine does. After a recent visit, my seven-year-old is now positively petrified of the dentist.
The fluoride plate caused him to gag. The scrape of enamel made his skin crawl. Then there were the repeated attempts to take X-rays by shoving a too-big implement into his mouth.
The dentist meant well. Still, as a parent the scene was painful to watch. More coaxing, more failed attempts. Meanwhile my son's anxiety skyrocketed. We left, frustrated (me) and in floods of tears (him).
I used to read stories about kids being bullied and shake my head. Why is it so hard to stop, I wondered. You find out what's going on then you dole out the consequences. Simple. At least that's what I thought until it happened to my son.
Like the myriad curve balls parenting throws at you, bullying comes in shades that aren't black and white.
When you open your eyes this morning, you’ll be excited. You will lick the sweet anticipation from your fingertips and rejoice at the sound of shredded paper, the singing voices of those who love you… The flicker of candles will dance in your eyes: seven, this year.
But for me, today will always be the sun throwing shadows on trees. Falling leaves and a packed duffel bag. A queasy stomach, and a blue car winding through the countryside to the hospital.