When People Ask 'How Do You Do It?' About Parenting a Child With Autism
“Brian, in five minutes we’re going to start getting ready to go to Corbin’s school to see his project.”
My request is met with crying. Transitioning out of the house lately has been rough. The typical transitions, like going to school, are no big deal. But anything that doesn’t happen on a regular basis immediately sets our son into panic mode, regardless of how much prep work we do before the transition.
I set the timer, and pull up a picture of the school on my phone to show him.
“Corbin is showing his Albert Einstein project at the Academic Fair. We have to go support him.”
He yells at me a little louder.
I wait until the timer goes off, and he slams the laptop closed.
He has tears coming down his cheeks, and he’s flapping his hands with anger.
I pull him into my lap and rock him. I whisper to him, “You are safe. It’s OK. You are loved. You are safe.”
He leans back and yells louder and hits his cheeks again. I admit I wince a little as the hands reach out, worried that I might also get a hit. But I don’t. He’s still in control enough that he’s not at that point.
I stand up, and his legs are wrapped around my waist. I stumble across the room to grab his favorite essential oil blend. I ask him if he wants his oils. “Yeah. Oils,” he responds between sobs.
I lay him back on the couch and give him a foot massage while applying the oils. I practice deep breathing, and I hear him trying to as well.
My husband and I exchange that look. We’re both thinking it. We’re not saying it out loud. Should one of us stay home with him? But no, we won’t. We have to give it a go. We have to support our oldest son and his hard work. We’re a family, and we have to do these things together. We have to help Brian be able to handle these outings.
I stand up and he cries a little and reaches out for me and again wraps his body around me.
We walk around the house like that. With me bent backwards a little to handle the weight, I point to the items we need for our outing with my husband following to collect them all: his talker, noise-cancelling headphones, a favorite animal, my cough drops and my phone.
We stumble out to the car, and I place him in his booster seat. His cheeks are still tear-streaked, but he buckles himself in a bit more quietly.
I’ve been fighting a cold, and I cough the entire car ride to the school. By the time we arrive, our breathing both seem to be regulated.
My husband meets us in the school parking lot. Like any outing that we are unsure of, we bring two vehicles. We have to be prepared that someone might have to leave early. Brian is at my feet with his hands up to me, “Up, up,” he pleads. Knowing I can’t carry him anymore without another coughing fit, I tell him no.
My husband offers a ride, but unfortunately in moments like this, Brian refuses him and walks on my feet with his head tucked into my stomach, trying to be as close to me as he possibly can. We walk into the school with this awkward gait.
Then we enter the school, he finds his brother and an inner switch clicks on. And he is OK with this transition.
And we hang out at a very crowded, busy, noisy environment for an hour and a half with just an amazing sweet, happy boy with autism.
The question I get the most from strangers, from people I’ve known for decades, from curious people and from well-meaning people is, “How do you do it?”
I often respond, “How do I not do it?”
But this is how we do it. We meet the challenge with a plan, with patience, with calmness, with compassion, with empathy and with love.
This is our life. This is our boy. Our amazing, beautiful, perfect child that has been handed challenges that we can’t fully understand because we don’t have the same challenges. A boy who doesn’t have a choice in how his body and his mind and his disorders react to simple transitions and input in his life.
So we meet him where he is and we love him where he is. We offer a hand to help him jump each hurdle as we meet it, and that’s how we do it.
How could we not do it?
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