As a parent to a child who has been deemed to be ‘on the spectrum’, things could get a bit tense at times. Those ‘times’ are much less frequent they used to be and we are better equipped to handle them than we were just a couple of years ago. While labels are often hurtful or carry a ton of baggage, Autistic doesn’t have to be such a label.
My step son is proud of himself and he should be. He is quite the accomplished young man, at the ripe old age of nine. Indeed, he knows more, about many things, than many ‘normal’ adults I know. This can be as much of a problem as it is a plus. The problem is that (and this is something I think most people in general all share) he honestly believes he is right and it can quite a shock when he realizes he was wrong.
One such incident led to what is now a nightly occurrence for us: nightly talks for us. On the night in question, Preston was already out of sorts. He had had a long, busy day and his wonderful brain was in overdrive. We were discussing something and he told me something that was not right. So I explained that he misunderstood and, well, it was meltdown city.
Fortunately, I had gotten to know how to deal with him and was able to calm him down. I sat with him for about an hour, talking about funny things we had done and assured him that I was not upset with him and that we all loved him very much. He thanked me and told me that the talk helped him calm down. He gave me a big hug and went right to sleep.
The next night, was easier. He had a busy day, and, this time, when said something that wasn’t quite right, I said ‘well, I’m not sure about that, but will check it out and we will talk about it tomorrow.’ He then asked me to talk to him for a few minutes, that it might help him to calm down. Sure enough, it did. This was many months ago, I’ve lost track of when we started, but it has been a while.
Funny thing happened, though. I got to know him a bit better. We often have these really deep or very high level discussions about things as varied as cars to black holes in space. He loves space, science and pretty much anything technical. Did I mention he is only nine years old (as of this writing)? I also realized that this kid, who is not my biological child, is very much like me. We share a lot of common interests and also have many of the same mannerisms. I also realized that he is very much a nine year old BOY. And, as a boy, he finds ‘boy things’ funny. Like burps, farts and other bodily sounds. Yes, I know girls do too, so don’t get wonky on me.
As he is only nine and does ‘boy things’, we must keep that in mind when he acts up. How much of it is being a kid and how much is because of the way he is wired. It is a fine line, to be sure. Sometimes, we get it right, sometimes we don’t.
This is as much an education for him as it is for us. He lets us know, most of the time, what his mind is doing. And…likewise, he uses that to his advantage. He is, after all, a very intelligent kid.
Back to the nightly talks.
Well, before we get back to Preston, let me share another side effect: my youngest son also wants me to talk to him at bedtime as well. So, I talk a few minutes with him-usually about when I ‘was a kid.’ He loves it, but not every night. That’s OK, I spend a lot of time on the weekends with him. We talk a lot.
These talks, often times lasting thirty minutes or more, have become something I look forward to, even when I have something else I need or want to do. I miss them on the weekend as Preston spends that time with father.
I always start them out by asking how his day was. Even though I often get the same answer, that’s OK. I’d rather him repeat himself than not tell me anything. I also want him to know that I am, in fact, interested in what he does. He is beginning to open up more and more. I also have a couple of things I repeat every time, including a fake misunderstanding of Spongebob Squarepants. I integrate that into a seemingly unconnected conversation…
“So, I saw this car today with a cute little bumper sticker. It was this yellow, boxy thing with pants and holes” He will look at me, smile and shout “SPONGEBOB!” to which I reply “oh, you’ve seen it!?” It gets him smiling and makes him a bit more responsive. But, I think it is time to retire it and move on to something else. He got irritated with it the last time I did it. He asked ‘why do you DO THAT!?’ I blame it on being old. It made him giggle.
Sometimes, though, I forget who I am talking to and say something that upsets him, like talking about sickness or something that has happened in the world. This usually begins with him asking about something related. I can tell when he is starting to get upset and I quickly change the subject. But…unfortunately, by that point, he is processing what was said. He may not mention it the next day or for days, but he will bring it up again. Sometimes, he tries to rationalize it himself. He does a great job with that, sound reasoning and conclusion…even when it is not right.
He looks at things very differently than I do. It is refreshing and, to be honest, I would not have him any other way. I hate what his mind goes through during a meltdown or when he begins to get upset, but, still, he is who he is because of the way he is wired and that’s what is important to remember. I love that kid.