Finishing up with a month of April autism awareness posts, I figured I’d mention all the wonderful, positive, right things that are the stuff of life when living in an autistic family (because, truthfully, after a while we all feel a little spectrum-y).
First of all, we have all acquired a habit of taking on some of the physical and verbal tics of our kids’ autism traits. We will all join in flapping with Tommy and/or Katie if the situation warrants that sharing of emotion. Yep, sometimes we just need to get stimmy with each other. When one person communicates and processes dialogue with flapping, it’s just natural to pick up on that, and join in. Clearing the throat is another trait that we all pay attention to; throat clearing accompanies explanations (sometimes very long ones, so we either settle in and get prepared to listen, or we tell (ususally) Tommy to wait, we need to address this later). So, sometimes accepting means mirroring, and we get that in our house. It doesn’t always work, now... all of us flapping and clearing our throats together in Target might set off some red flags, but at home, it works well to communicate, “I get you.”
We all laugh and cry a lot. The emotions flow freely at our house, with not a lot of filters. This is both good and bad. We, and I mean all of us humans that make up this family, know when each other are happy, sad, mad, annoyed, upset, etc. We’ve named what angry eyebrows mean, what mashed lips convey, and what tears communicate. Every facial expression has gotten a name and an emotion attached to it.
We love fierce! These kids, especially, keep me on my toes. I can witness fighting for thirty eight hours straight, but the moment one child thinks another has been slighted, judged, or mistreated, protective-sibling-mode is on full and glorious display (again, without a lot of filters) for everyone to witness. More often than not I am feeling proud and thinking, “wow... these kids have that love and protect thing down pat.” Sometimes, though, I’m like, “can you keep that in your thought bubble, please?” Teaching social awareness and situational respect is tough stuff. I’m constantly learning, myself, actually. No one can claim, though, that love is absent at our house.
This crew has learned to be very (very) specific with our words. The first time I told Tommy to “go hop in the tub,” and he literally hopped into the tub and nearly cracked his head, I took note that I couldn’t assume that phrases wouldn’t be interpreted literally. “Hop to it,” involved hopping. Amelia Bedelia was extremely helpful to us early on. I had to be careful with imaginary play, too. When Tommy was five, he decided to try flying out his window, complete with cape and mask on. I caught him right before he had pushed the screen all the way out. After freaking out completely (“What are you doing?!?!” --”Trying to fly!!!”), I had to explain the difference between real and pretend people... which didn’t go so well, actually, and needed to be revisited frequently. Also, all aspects of home safety had to be reevaluated and updated, and explained. I have to admit we had to reevaluate and explain again with our third child, who is also on the spectrum. She wasn’t diagnosed until later, but there it was, around age five, she wanted to fly, and she was in a tree, not a bedroom window, but still -- I can’t lock a tree and put a safety latch on it. Specific words. Often repeated.
Finally, acceptance. Learning to accept each other, even when we are all different, is huge. I may not agree or like what you say to me, but I accept you. We all need a little grace with this one, too. It doesn’t necessarily feel accepting sometimes, say, when my child is telling me he would save an animal’s life over mine. However, I can accept (after I’ve had a few minutes to sit back and think about it) that said child feels very strongly about how vulnerable an animal is, versus how resourceful a human is. Plus, I’m allegedly older and wiser, and should be able to give the kids a little space to think and formulate opinions, and voice said opinions. This, quite obviously, doesn’t always work, especially when respect becomes an issue. All children need to learn to respect their parents, even if it means they don’t accept an explanation (Why isn’t Superman real?!?! Why are dinosaurs extinct?!?!”). So, accepting and respecting are two things that require continuous training and learning on all of our parts. Regardless, the accepting of each other is the beauty of a neuro-diverse family.
So, keep calm, love, laugh, accept, and respect, and parent on!