If you have read my blog at all, you know that my son has an autism spectrum disorder. Truthfully, most days I don’t think about it. Well, that’s not entirely true. Most days I don’t think about it more than three or four times. Most days I just think passing thoughts like, “Hmmm. He seems to be doing better with this.” or “Oh hell. We definitely need to work on this.” and “I don’t think this particular thing is ever going to get better.” No big deal.
Then there are other days. Days where all day long I think about his autism. I have been having a lot of those days lately. Why? Because he is an adolescent. It’s surprisingly difficult to raise an autistic adolescent. You have normal, every day, run of the mill adolescent attitude problems. (I swear I want to pluck his eyeballs out of his head every time he rolls them at people and things.) But then you have other crap. And it really is crap. Let me explain.
The Birds and The Bees
Sex talks are awkward for everyone. They just are. But they need to happen. I learned that from my own fabulous mother who was always open and forthright. Seriously though? Sex talks with someone on the spectrum are just a whole new level of “sucky adult responsibilities”. It’s just really hard to explain things in a way they can understand. PLUS! You have to keep their attention! That means it all has to be kept short. Which in turn means that you have to break up all the bigger sex talks (because I am a believer in giving children only as much as they can understand) into lots and lots of tiny sex talks. Super fun. It doesn’t matter how frank or calm I am when we start, I’m always sweating by the end. It’s just really stressful to make sure the information is understood and to try to divine what questions he has because he doesn’t always know how to ask them! *big sigh* I hate the sex talks. BUT! I am determined to keep that line of communication open, so they have to happen. And for the record, it does help him. He has already come to me with questions and concerns.
Everybody Just CALM DOWN!
Hormones suck. They just do. I don’t care if they serve a purpose and do all sorts of good in this world. When you are living with someone in the throws of puberty, hormones are the greatest evil on earth. Don’t lie. You know it to be true. My son, for example, has all those lovely male hormones flooding his system right now. And, from what I understand, we’ve only just begun. Awesome. He gets so angry! AND HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW WHY HE IS GETTING SO ANGRY!!! His sister walked by his room the other day. I mean she literally just walked by! And she had the audacity to glance into his room as she passed, and the boy flipped out. I kid you not. I heard a raging boy shout “Stop looking at me!” I look down the hallway to see him standing in his doorway just furious. His sister, meanwhile, is looking at him like he’s insane. Then she just shrugs her shoulders and walks toward me and says, “What’s his problem? I was just walking by his room.” Oh child. I have no answer for your question. Just trust me when I say that one day you too will flip out over nothing. Exciting times. Now, I don’t let him skate by without consequences or anything. But truth be told, when the situation is over and he has calmed, he actually has no idea why he gets so upset. Sure, I explain the hormone thing…but that doesn’t mean anything to him. Intellectually he understands, but that doesn’t do much for the immature emotional part of him. All day long lately, I ground people from talking. Seriously. I do. I forbid anyone from speaking for several minutes. I like to think that I do this for their benefit, to give them a chance to calm down. Truthfully, I do it for my sanity. Silence really is golden when you have hormonal children in the house. And I haven’t even mentioned his sudden overwhelming desire to be top dog…ALL. THE. TIME. Ugh. It’s really exhausting dealing with other people’s hormones. I can barely manage my own.
Navigating the Treacherous Social Waters
This is actually the worst part…at least for me. With the sex talks and the hormones, I feel overwhelmed, but at least I feel capable. Social stuff? I’m out of my depth. Lately this is what I spend my time ruminating and praying on. It kills me to see my sweet boy struggle. Nobody bullies him really. But nobody really wants him around either. Well, nobody his age. He tries. He tries to be funny, but he’s awkward. He makes weird jokes. He doesn’t understand social nuances. He thinks differently. The simple fact is that he just is different. I have no idea how to help him. I know what it’s like to feel awkward and stressed because you feel the pressure to make a good impression, to make people think you would be a good one to have around. You end up NOT putting your best foot forward. You end up being more awkward than normal. You end up sticking out instead of blending in. You end up alone. This is where my son is. Alone. And I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get him through adolescence. I am certain that if he can get to adulthood without serious scarring he will be OK. He will manage to find, as I do, a friend or two that is trustworthy and appreciative of who he is wherever he is. But I don’t know how to get him there. This past week his Scouts group had a video game night, just to have fun and bond. They played a game called Halo. Don’t ask me which one it is. I have no idea. Here’s what I do know. My kids don’t play those kinds of video games. They just don’t. (I’m not judging other parents who do. To each their own.) Anyway. Everyone had to take turns so that everyone could play. Makes sense. So whoever did the worst in a round had to sit out. Totally makes sense. Here’s the thing. J always did the worst. He struggles with understanding new games and how to play them. Honestly? I’m not upset over the situation. Here’s what upsets me. He knew he was the worst. He knew that he always would be the worst. He tried. He did. But in the end, he decided to sit on the couch and watch. Who did he sit with? One of the leaders. That’s what upsets me. He sat with me telling me about the evening, and he said, “But, Mom, don’t worry. I made sure not to get angry or upset that I was always losing and dying. I did a good job smiling and laughing. I just decided it would be more fun to watch.” That’s when he told me he just sat on the couch next to the leader. Why does this upset me? Simply put, it’s always the leaders/adults that J sits with. Always. When we go to church, the other boys aren’t mean to him. But he’s not a part of them. They don’t really talk to him. He sits alone. And it’s painful to see. His leaders are good, and they appreciate him, so there is that. But I want to teach him how to approach a group of people. The thing is, I have no idea how to do it myself. When we are out in public and people talk to him, he doesn’t respond. He looks down and away and won’t make eye contact. It’s really hard to teach him how to answer people and respond. Why? Because he is afraid they will keep asking more questions that he won’t be able to answer. So his idea of controlling the situation is to ignore them. While it is effective, it isn’t the best way. I struggle to help him learn how to engage with others while not feeling like he is drowning. Why? Because it was hard for me to learn, and sometimes I still drown.
In a nutshell, I want my son to be able to fearlessly swim the social waters. But I would be happy if he could just learn to tread them and keep his head above them. The trouble is, I don’t know how to teach him. So my knee-jerk response is to keep him home with me where he is loved and safe and never let the outside world touch him…pretend it doesn’t exist. (Hmmm…and I wonder where he gets is weirdness. 😉 )
So yeah…adolescent autism is a thing of beauty for everyone involved. I wish I had a few more years to prepare for it. All you mothers of younger kids on the spectrum, start preparing yourself now for these years. You’ll thank me for it.
Take It, and Be Thankful