Entering the World of My Child on the Autism Spectrum
One of the worst fears as a parent many of us probably share is how to keep our children safe from harm. We might spend countless hours worrying about sickness, physical/metal/emotional harm, appointments, bullying, school and much more befalling our children. We might run around doing things for our kids, plus cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and baths — sometimes we might even forget to take time out for us. With the million and one items on our checklist of to do’s and worrying, it is no wonder we might not take time to enjoy the little things.
We lived in Louisiana, in the deep, deep south. Copperheads reared themselves at every opportunity. At one time, the farmers’ bulls escaped ensuring, everyone stayed safe and locked up in our homes until the sheriff let us know the coast was clear. I won’t even get into the alligator farm the bank seized, leaving the alligators to fend for themselves. Needless to say, Louisiana was rich with culture and wildlife, but I worried non-stop about things that could harm my son.
I’ll never forget the day Chris taught me something about the “little things” in life. This was also the day I realized just how much worry I carried. Our two mile driveway was made from rock and stone with a natural pond that overflowed every time it rained. Outside, Chris was jumping in and out of puddles. I found such enjoyment watching him, considering not much amused my 3-year-old. I followed him back and forth, with less than a foot spacing between us. After an hour of this, my nerves were shot. I felt like I said, “Chris, please don’t,” or “Chris, be careful,” so much that if that was a song on the radio, it would have been played out.
At one point, he looked up at me with his big, brown eyes and said, “Ma, drop.” I squinted my eyes, as if that helped clarify what he was saying or helped me to hear better. He again said, “Ma drop,” but this time pointed to the ground. “Oh, you mean jump. Is that what you are trying to say, you want mommy to jump?” He smiled ear to ear and shook his head yes. Here, is where I realized, I was officially an anxious parent. No way, who knows what’s in that water? Knowing my luck, I would jump, cut my foot, bacteria would devour it, have a visit to the hospital, and be off my feet for a week. Yeah, nope. I bent down towards Chris, grabbed his little hands softly, and said, “I’m sorry, buddy, but mommy can’t do it. I don’t even want you to because I don’t want you to get hurt. But, you are having so much fun and mommy wants you to be happy.”
Chris looked down at the ground and his jump didn’t have as much pep. I had never felt so bad as a parent until that day. I bent down again to ask him what was wrong. When Chris was upset, he would get distant or mad. This was one of those times. Just jump you fool! You used to jump off buildings into pools as a kid, but you can’t jump barefoot in a puddle. Wham. I had just hit a brick wall of enlightenment. Here, my son wanted to play and all I could think about was protecting him and myself from unlikely possible harm. He took it as me not wanting to play with him and I…..well, I was being a silly parent.
We played even when the rain came. After baths, dinner and bed, the house fell silent again. In the country, when things are silent, there is almost a loneliness that befalls like a blanket softly falling over you. The term, “you can hear a pin drop,” doesn’t quite describe it. I was left to my thoughts and began rehashing the day in my mind. I imagine all my son wanted me to do was enter his world. I want him to feel accepted and understood. I believe he needed me to jump in those puddles and I hope by doing so he felt all those wonderful things. It was the smallest thing to do, compared to the everyday battles and hurdles. I was happy I entered Chris’s world. I cringed then and still do, thinking I almost didn’t because of all the “possible harm.”
I know how hard it can be to take time to enjoy the little moments. I can have many little and big things in my mind — trying to have my children adjust to certain social norms, how to teach my child this, or all the “don’t, no, wait, in a second.” I am blinded by all those things and don’t stop to try and see it through my child’s eyes. For me, it is important to enter my child’s world. No matter how unusual, off the beaten path or stressful it may seem. Later, I believe my child will be ever thankful for it.
Chris is now 9 years old. Driving in the car I asked him, “Do you feel I understand you?” He shook his head yes. “OK, next question: Do you feel accepted by me?” He shook his head yes, again. Piling out of the car, he gave me a hug. He said, “Mom, you know when I say I hate you, I really don’t. I mean, I’m mad. It’s usually because you tell me “no.” I get it, though.” I teared up then and even now, while writing this. I believe going into his world allowed him to blossom in mine.
As parents I believe it is imperative to enter our children’s world first, before pointing out all the things they need to change or think about. I think of it this way: Could I explain what chocolate ice cream tastes like if I’ve never had it before? So, how could I explain the “ins and outs” of the world to my child if I don’t know how they view it?
Follow this journey at Ronnie’s blog.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock image by Vadven