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Crushing My Autistic Child’s Spirit

453302597“In your eyes, he becomes a collection of behaviors to reward or suppress, and on some level, he stops being a person to you.” Susan Senator wrote this startling revelation in her book, “Making Peace with Autism.” It was like a harsh, stinging slap across the face when I read it and it stuck with me, deep in my soul, like a ton of bricks I couldn’t carry.

I was so desperate, in those early days, to rescue my son. I wanted him back. The child I knew he was inside…the child who laughed, played chase, poked playmates in the eye, would beg for more cookies and worm his way out of time-outs by appropriately placed “I love you, Mama” sentiments. Autism stole him away from me. And so began the constant crusade to bring him back…the multitude of therapies, school district evaluations, doctor appointments, sensory diets, special food diets, the list goes on. I’m sure you can relate. Every day, every night, I worked tirelessly to move forward with him. I crafted sensory tools and toys for him that were just right, I scoured websites for the right “learn to play” videos for him, I meticulously planned play dates with children who weren’t too far “ahead” of him but “typical” enough for him to learn from. I cut all the tags out of his clothing and ripped the seams out of his socks. I constantly replaced child locks on everything in the house. I had specially sized rods and bars cut to specifications to put in all the windows so he couldn’t escape. And some nights when my husband was deployed and I was terrified I would sleep through should my son wander from his room, I slept on the tile floor to block the front door- 8 months pregnant. But little by little, he progressed. Screaming matches were progress- at least he was acknowledging me! Throwing toys at me was progress- at least he knows the toys are there! Kicking the preschool teacher was progress- because he had made it the entire bus ride to school without causing the driver to turn back. And flash forward to where we are today. He’s 7, and he is “high functioning.” He is all the things “typical” little boys are, and more. He has friends, he laughs, he plays, he argues, he eats at the table with us, he dresses himself, and he’s potty trained. He can even do addition and identify a noun.

Yet still, I agonize over all the little things that make him still obviously autistic. I find myself saying to him regularly, “stop that.” In our home, even, where he should feel safe and loved and able to be himself, I constantly remind him to be “normal.” No, I don’t tell him that. But I might as well be. Because he senses that. The small sigh that escapes him as he leaves the room to take his noises somewhere out of ear shot…the way he says “sorry” after accidentally letting a stim slip out. It’s how I know I have started to crush his soul.

I told him recently, “I like you. I like you for who you are.” His face lit up and he tried to hide his grin, and he blinked back tears. I hugged him tight and let my tears spill over, telling him over and over how sorry I was. I didn’t even say what I was sorry for. He already knew.
This whole time I have been trying to prepare him for the world. I wanted him to fall in love, have a job, drive a car, go out to eat with good friends….it’s important to mothers to make sure their children will grow up happy. For me, the very thought of him not being happy makes me nauseous. I was bullied as a child, and I had so fervently wished to have friends and to “fit in.” When I see my son being bullied I feel such overwhelmingly anguish that I nearly pass out.
Here’s the ugly truth of the matter though: I am bullying my child.

I have nagged and shamed him into “fitting in” for long enough. I know that my heart was in the right place, but now it’s time to do even better.

“I love you for who you are.”
“I like being with you.”
“You’re funny and silly!”
“You’re a great friend!”
“Thank you for sitting with me and letting me by myself with you.”
“Thank you for loving me for who I am.”
“You should be proud of yourself.”
“You’re an amazing person.”
“You make me a better mommy.”
“I’m proud of you.”

Those are the words my son needs to hear. Instead of preparing him for the world, which is so cruel no matter who we are, I’m going to show him how incredible he already is. I want him to love himself so deeply and intensely that no bully will mar his ability to pick up and carry on. That love starts with me.


2 comments on “Crushing My Autistic Child’s Spirit

  1. lobnamhamdi
    February 27, 2014

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  2. Ann Kilter
    February 27, 2014

    I can relate. I fid the same thing sometimes. And when my son was bullied, intense memories welled up within me from my own memories. I think that those memories also gave me courage to take on the school and tell them that merely saying “kids can be so cruel” was a cop out.

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