Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

I recently wrote about my step son’s autism diagnosis.  I want to expound a bit on that post.  I thought about just editing it, but decided to write a new post, I don’t want to confuse anyone who already read it and I’d like to say more.

Early on, right after my wife had moved in with me, I thought my step son was spoiled and that he got by with a lot.  And, that is true:  my wife will tell you that, yes, he was spoiled and he did get by with a few things. There are reasons for that and I will get into that in a bit.  I also thought ‘well, he isn’t acting that much different than an ‘x’ year old (supply any number for ‘x’.)  Well, yeah, he was.  See, my problem has more to do with MY perception of how a child SHOULD be.  It is different from yours, I am sure.  We tend to compare things with that we know.  For example, I tend to use my first son as a reference, even though I know he was unusual. Unusual in that he was quiet, liked to play on his own, etc.  So, that was my reference point.  Add to that, my mother was a foster parent and she also baby sat children.  So, having been around children my entire life, I thought I knew what I was seeing.  And, yes, some of that behavior was normal and very appropriate for his age. Most, though, was not. And that is what I missed.

Now, when he was younger, he had many, many sensory issues and, as such, was unable to play outside.  The dirt, grass, rain, snow…most things that we would take for granted, he had major problems with…especially sand and snow.  So, since he could not play outside, he was allowed to throw things inside.  Let me tell you, I was appalled the first time I saw it and went off the deep end.  All I could see was my expensive gear getting broken, broken glass everywhere and a lot of money to replace the broken stuff.  Even after the reason he did that was explained to me, I still had (and still do) had issues with throwing balls-or anything-in the house.  Yes, it is still forbidden.  We had to figure out how to get him to play outside and understand that, here, it was not allowed to throw things in the house. 

As time went on, though, it became less of an issue as he learned to play outside and, now, he loves it—when he does not want to play video games, this is.

Once I knew WHY he did what did and WHY he ‘got by with it’, I adjusted and adapted.  Rules are rules, even for him.  The key is to figure out how to implement them in a way to accommodate his issues.  So, we started out by allowing it in one large room of the house, where there were no expensive things to break and we limited it to only softer balls. It was also allowed in the hall up to the room.  This worked well.

The sensory thing was a big indicator of a problem.  Most of us have some kind of sensory intolerance, be it loud noises, the feel of a fabric, the texture of a food. We all have experienced this at some point in our lives. For some, though, there’s a multitude of issues and my step son had a bunch.  From food textures (he is the ONLY kid I know who cannot tolerate mashed potatoes, as soon as they touch his tongue, the gag reflex kicks in and…boom!  Out go the potatoes.  He also does not like certain fabrics touching his skin.  Sand used to freak him out.  Anything with a non-smooth texture bothered him.  His socks being ‘twisted’. 

Some of these I understood. The sock thing? Over my head. I just could not fathom that idea that he could feel that or that it felt wrong. I just couldn’t.  I would often just brush it off.  And, let me tell you, that is something you SHOULD NOT DO. Period. NEVER ignore it. NEVER think ‘well, that’s just crap’. Never. Don’t do it.  It means something to those who experience it and should not be dismissed. Ever.  Help them with fixing it.  If it takes a few minutes, deal with the delay yourself, don’t put it on them.  It will just make it worse.  I know first hand.  Little dude, I am so sorry for that.

For children like my step son, there is a time for ‘the lesson’ and a time for just letting them do it their way.  If there are two doors that go to the same place and they pick the right door instead of the one you were going to use, just suck it up and go through the door they want.  That is a small battle you do not need to win.

The battles you DO want to win are the ones that teach them something.  The ones that keep them safe.  The ‘lesson’. 

So, what’s the ‘lesson’?  Well, that’s when they do something they think is the right way, but you know it isn’t.  One that will get them laughed at or scorned later in life in a job, school or other social setting.

And, that’s the key: social setting.  Children like Preston, my step son–my son–lack many social skills, including when to be polite, when to take feelings into account, when to back off.  He’s got the basics down, he knows how to introduce himself and he will participate in things, but he will also tell you if he thinks something is stupid, not thinking about that would affect the others.  That is a foreign concept. And that is where you give ‘the lesson’.  I’m not going to go into much about that for now.  I am going to write about that in another post.

Thinking back, there were many signs I just could not see due to my own preconceptions.  This makes me wonder how many children out there need help but, likely, won’t get it because of someone like me.  Fortunately, Preston has a great support system in my wife, his father, his grandparents, brother and myself.  Recognizing that the melt downs — NOT the other stuff — I realized that, yeah, something was off and, after several years, we finally know why.

What I am trying to say, is that you need to have an open mind and throw out any ideas you have about how children SHOULD be.  It’s tough to do,  and, at times, you will regress back into that comfort zone, but, don’t do it. 

Remember, it is about them, not you.  They need your help more than you need for them to be perfect.

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