"It's Already Done" -- A Mother's Journey
To help kick off National Autism Awareness Month, we have a first-person view from Virginia, a mother whose son has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s.
My story did not begin with the doctor sitting me and my son’s father down and telling us our son had autism and then going through the whole denial- sad- angry-acceptance phases. It came in bits and pieces over years until he had started school and was tested. My son is what they call “high-functioning ADHD” and “Asperger’s.”
Many times you will not notice anything different.
It started when the pediatrician, noticing my son didn’t meet certain milestones during his infant and toddler years, recommended that he start a program where he could be brought up to his age level. After his first day care provider noticed certain behaviors when he was in her care and alerted me, I looked up information on the Internet and noted that my son displayed about half of the ten classic signs of Asperger’s and I thought, Could he…? I didn’t think anything about ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He talks to himself a lot, is usually in motion, and sometimes he cannot hear you because he’s zoned out. But he smiled early, has always made great eye contact, socializes fairly well with other children and picks up social cues, at least from adults. The classroom is a different story. Every year has been a struggle with lots of ups and downs. The ADHD keeps him from regularly focusing on his classwork. Independent work is rare. However, sometimes he can walk around the classroom, playing with his hands and get called on and have the right answer.
Being able to retain large amounts of information has never been a problem. Names of people, dates, faces, historical events, fun science facts, all kinds of facts about each president: he remembers every detail. At 4, he could tell you what kind of car you drove. At a classic car show, a couple of owners looked at me like, “Wow,” when this little kid would talk about their car. At 6 or 7, you could give him any year and he would tell you who was president.
He’s 10 now and some of that “whiz kid” is still there but he’s becoming more aware of himself and the world around him and is trying to make sense of it all. As a result, he’s distracting himself a whole lot more and his struggles are increasing.
The other students are beginning to notice, too. One child called him a “retard,” but the teacher took care of that, thank goodness. He was hurt but not devastated. Knowing he was going to need it, I started building up his self-esteem years ago. Any child, regardless, has to have that armor — that strength inside — that tells them they are worthy, despite what anyone else tells them.
My favorite lines are, “Just because this kid says this to you doesn’t make it true. Who are they? Do you believe you are what they said you are? No? Good. Because, you are not. I’m your mother and an adult and I know you. Don’t let them kids say any kind of thing to you. You fight back.” I talk to him tough because he has to become tough.
When some people hear “autism,” they immediately want to throw him in the slow category. This is especially true in the African-American community, my community. In my opinion, my community as a whole is not well-versed on the autism spectrum. That is why I rarely tell people that he has Asperger’s. It is on a need-to-know basis. My family didn’t really know until about a couple years ago. I do not want anyone treating him like he is mentally challenged. If he was, I could accept that. But he’s not.
And the challenges don’t end with him and the frustrating nights of homework, the feeling like you are always running late because of a situation at home, the calls from school, the overall stress. It also comes from the other parent. His father and I broke up several years ago and his father fights me every step of the way. He cannot accept that our son has challenges. He does not and will not see what everyone else sees.
Many times I have sat down and said to myself, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.” And for about 10 minutes, I give up and cry. But then I think, “What choice do I have? I have to get back up and keep moving.”
I recently contacted an autism organization that helps with education needs and we are in the beginning stages of finding a more successful education path for my son. The one thing I have learned during this journey: you have to try different things to see what works. Become creative.
I have a very strong faith in God and I’m teaching my son to have one, too. That is really what has kept me going. I know that he is going to be ok.
As the gospel song says, “It’s already done.”