A couple of days ago I was driving down the road with the boys heading to the gym and the conversation was flitting from one topic to the next. We have some of our most memorable, profound, and oftentimes inane conversations in the car.
This day was to be no different than any other day. Random conversations, quick puns with return volleys being fired just as quickly, a touch of silliness thrown in for good measure…
Then the youngest brought up a story out of the blue about one of his 4th grade classmates and the special treatment the boy received even though he didn’t do his work most of the time. I listened and asked a few questions about other incidents throughout the school year.
I’m not sure how much the boys remember of their younger years and so I always tread lightly, but with complete honesty, when we have these conversations.
I gently said, “Did you know this little guy is autistic?”
I paused searching and praying for the right words…
“It’s really, really awesome that’s he’s been in a regular classroom all year long…
…that means he is doing really well, but sometimes lots of noise and excitement can be too much for him to handle and he forgets how to communicate those needs.
He may put his head down on his desk and cry as he did during the class party…
….or he may get upset and yell…
…but you have to remember he’s doing the best he can and you should always be kind to him just like you are to everyone else.”
The car was quiet for a moment…
Then the oldest, who was riding in the passenger seat next to me said, “But he can grow out of that, right?”
I quickly glanced over at him to gauge his reaction to the conversation thus far.
“Not always.” I told him. “Some people do get better as they grow older, but not everyone.”
A short pause and then the oldest said, “Wow. I got lucky then.” A mixture of disbelief and amazement in his voice.
This mama’s heart nearly broke when he said that. I think it was the first time he truly realized how far he had come and how different his life could have turned out.
I went on to tell him how hard he had worked as a toddler and preschooler, the hours upon hours of play therapy we had done while other families were enjoying T-ball or a trip to the zoo, the special diet that was often stressful but was key to them both getting better.
I reminded him how as a first grader he made a conscious effort to work on self-control so he would fit in with the other kids. He knew he was different and he didn’t want to stand out to his peers, so he decided to change.
Yes, he got lucky, but he also put in a lot of effort to change his behavior and his life. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but he did those things on his own, while I was the co-pilot by his side every step of the way, offering direction and support when I could.
But he did the work…
This boy sitting next to me and his younger brother in the backseat?
They were once the kid who others couldn’t quite figure out, who other kids didn’t want to be around, or to talk to in class.
They made me a mama and they stole my heart from day one.
They are my heroes.
Always have been.
Always will be.
They showed me how unfair life could be (for them) and then they showed me how amazing the world is from their perspective. There is a beautiful side to autism if you take the time to understand it. Most folks miss out on that side though because they are too busy judging or turning away because they don’t understand.
These boys are stronger than you can ever imagine. And they made me become stronger because they needed me to be strong for them.
My message to you today:
Help your kids understand why some kids act they way they do and teach them to be kind. Always.
And while you’re at it, remember to be kind to the mama. She’s probably doing the best she can.
I can promise you, your worst day is probably still better than her best day so don’t make her life any harder by judging her.