Mother’s Day is one of many days we honor and cherish a mother’s role in the life of a child. This role at its primal core is to guide a child to survive their surroundings to become a good human who can raise their own offspring one day.
If you are like me you read the parenting books to prepare for having a child from Heidi Murkoff. To determine my parenting style, I took from my parents, my grandparents, and the wisdom of author Tedd Tripp. Mixing this all together my oldest son and I were making our way through life just fine.
When baby number two entered the scene in 2000 he quite literally rocked my world. Nothing I had learned, read, or witnessed prepared me for parenting a child with autism. Every day he tested that primal core role I had as a mother. He had absolutely no fear. Many times, I just prayed he would survive. I learned to pray without ceasing with this child. He out smarted every safety lock. He climbed every fence. He could almost outrun me… almost. He stepped out into water as if he could walk on it. He did not know a stranger or cared in the slightest if you were one. He was unbridled fearless. He would not respond to my calls for him to “stop” or “come to mommy”. He could not express his wants and needs verbally, so he did physically through pulling me toward his wants, banging his head out of frustration, biting himself or anyone who would get in his way to access what he could not name.
Our home was once nicknamed Camp Run-a-muck. This is what it felt like we were doing inside those four walls. There was no balance. We were merely surviving. This was not going to be the end of this mother’s story after all I am striving to raise good humans. I researched autism with the same vigor I researched motherhood. I knew my short man was not going to be short very much longer. I had to figure out how to help him survive and be a better human. This is where I found behavior analysis. Learning by contingencies was our saving grace. My son and I now discovered a way to understand each other. Unfortunately, this is not our happy ending for the after-school special. Every developmental milestone brings its own challenges. To be his mother I had to stay on top of my game and research to know how to parent my short man with autism.
My third child was a surprise. He was just what our little family needed. He had the wisdom to point out to me that I could no longer call his brother short man. “He is taller than you now, Mommy.” He was right. It seemed as if I blinked or maybe I napped. We were standing at the edge of puberty. Regardless of the knowledge I had gained. I felt ill equipped for this developmental milestone.
I have longed for the days I could hold him in my arms to stop his aggression and self-injurious behaviors. Those days of physically controlling behaviors is now over for this mother. My focus shifted from protecting him to protecting myself and others from him. Yes, you read those words correctly. My short man is now the size of a linebacker. He bites his hands, arms, and legs with what seems to be the force of an alligator. His head bangs that would cause swelling can now dent walls and cause more damage. He throws his toys with such velocity they now break or at least dent whatever they hit. He has managed to hit me a few times, taking the wind right out of me. I no longer can weather this storm at his side. I am safer on the other side of the door of his meltdown. It is as if he turned into this unpredictable tornado that had outgrown me. The research I once counted on was limited when it came to answering my plea for what do I do now for him. No book discusses this reality of living on this side, this moment of autism. Honestly, no parent really wants to put these words on paper. It is a vulnerable place.
Writing this could very well result in friends and family fearing my child or fear allowing their children around mine. It is hard when people question what will he do or what behaviors he will demonstrate. I still cringe with that one. After all, I am supposed to raise a good human and I have. Most of the time he is loving, caring, generous, and very funny. He will share his coveted trains with little ones and sing their favorite songs to comfort them. It is really precious to watch. He is gentle most of the time. These meltdowns are moments. My son deserves to not be defined by these moments just like everyone else. Most neurotypical adults and adolescents have meltdowns where doors are slammed, things get broken or thrown, or something regrettable is said to someone you love. This moment is not different from ours. It feels no different for him. The exception is a neurotypical person has language accompanied by a social filter. From every reader of this story, I am asking for you to have grace and an understanding for the family living with the 1 in 58. Embrace and understand our similarities and differences.
Our story is a reality that is upon many of my fellow Mothers of adolescents and adults living with autism on this Mother’s Day. I want to acknowledge the strength and love this moment takes. I wanted to shed some light on what many Mother’s that love their children endure to raise good humans and keep them safe while keeping themselves safe in their surroundings.
Because my son and I have been involved with behavior analysis, we have learned to manage these grown up melt downs with de-escalation. We have gained tools to aid in avoiding them by first identifying the physical signs he demonstrates indicating when it is time to take a break and go to his room or go sit in the car. Secondly, we used principles of behavior analysis to teach him skills necessary to avoid meltdowns like transitioning, accept “no”, and wait for access to what he wants. These skills must be practiced for success. Medications were not an option for us. We went the holistic route and it has worked for us. This is as happy as our ending gets for now.
I want to encourage my fellow Mother’s living with autism to prepare for this milestone. For those living in this moment, there is hope and there is help. There is a growing Village of Mothers living with autism. There is a growing Village of Mothers standing on the other side of the door. Just like you they are strong and trying to raise good humans. I hope this encourages those supporting a Mother raising an amazing individual with autism to be a good human to be a support.
In no way does the experience discussed here reflect the behavior or experience of all individuals living with autism. This is ours.
My not so short man will be eighteen this year. I will let my fellow Mother’s know how we come through this next developmental milestone.