September 19, 2011
Still in the Woods
He’s a blur as he races past me, my whirling dervish of a youngest son, filled to the brim with unrelentless energy despite the fact we’ve just returned home from an hour-long sojourn at a local playground. “YOU CAN’T CATCH ME!” he yells with his outside voice in our very inside family room, and he is literally correct, as his middle-aged mama is no longer fast enough to corral him unless he wants to be caught. I tell him for the fifth (or was it thousandth) time not to run in the house as he’ll get hurt, and as he slides behind the curtain that blocks off access to our garage and laundry room I remind him not to pull on said curtain, as he attempts to hide from me.
I see the slight vestige of a sly grin on his face as he disappears, and as I make my way to the kitchen to deposit those dirty dishes that seem to multiply freely of their own accord, I hear it. RIP!!! followed closely by CRASH!!!, and I turn in time to witness our thick denim curtain, iron rod, and holders with pointy edges tear from the wall, and fall inches in front of my son’s face. A loud “Uh Oh!” is quickly followed by my asking my four-year-old pointlessly how many times I’ve told him not to grab that particular fabric, to which he replies, “I’m sorry Mom, my brain made me do it.”
I think to myself, “Thanks hon. Now how exactly do I respond to THAT?”
He’s absolutely right of course, on so many different levels, and that’s the main issue with his type of autism that we all seem to be working on, from his parents, to his sitter, to his teachers. He often (like many other four-year-olds I’m told) lacks that initial impulse control, that ability to derive right from wrong in certain situations, sometimes ones that really matter. More than his anxieties or need for certain rituals, this lack of control is what worries me the most.
Since he inherited the “tall genes” from his father he already looks older than he is, and I find people in our community to be shocked when I tell them he’s still in pre-k, see them often sporting a look that says, “oh, THAT’S why” on their faces after hearing my response. He looks and sounds completely “typical”, and that fact, coupled with him appearing older than he really is, already puts him at a disadvantage. I don’t want people to regard him as “bad”. I don’t want him to think he’s “bad”. So his next comment just crawls into my soul and takes up residence there, and I know it’s not going to relocate for a long, long, time.
“Mommy, my brain is bad”. Crap.
I sit down on the floor and cuddle him close to me, and we engage in a long discussion about good and bad choices and brains, and take a brief detour to reflect upon the demise of dinosaurs. We practice counting to three before making a choice, a strategy I’m pretty sure won’t hold up in court. He says when that pesky organ of his tries to lead him astray he’ll respond with “No brain, bad choice, I WON’T do it!”, and he ‘ll instead take the absolute opposite path. We practice different scenarios, both at school and at home, all with my youngest reigning victorious, vanquishing that body part hell-bent on leading him into temptation.
“I want to be good, Mom” he sighs softly into my shoulder, and my heart breaks open just a little more, an organ of my own that has just begun to repair. I ask him to look at me and tell him he is my very good boy, and that making good choices is one of the hardest things in life, that even adults struggle to do the right thing, including (definitely including), his mama. He smiles and slides off of my lap to find that book on dinosaurs, the one with most of the answers.
I wish it were that simple to find all the answers for him.
I am reminded, usually on a daily basis, that despite his ability to speak, remedy his mistakes, and socialize with anything alive, that we still have a long way to go with helping him walk in a more “typical” world. What with Justin’s transformation into a mostly compliant, happy-go-lucky child, I am often struck by the irony that my far more autistic offspring is frequently the easier one to manage. My youngest will have to navigate the murky waters of friendships, learn to engage in dialogue not solely centered on his interests, and eventually work his way to remaining still for more than three consecutive minutes. He has a long way to go as he matures, and I’m so grateful he has what I like to call his “tribe” to help him get there.
In the meantime, we’re not out of the woods yet.