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My Son Has Autism, Not a Discipline Problem

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Few people know my son, Joseph, is autistic.

Joseph was a thousand percent born this way. From day one I suspected autism because he was different than his siblings, Mathew, Reyna, and Lindzy. I don’t say that in a negative way — they merely had certain traits and reached milestones he never did.

I used to try desperately to calm him down, cuddling and rocking him, singing over and over, but no matter what I did, he just wanted to be alone. He wouldn’t eat unless he was in his bed with a bottle propped up — I wasn’t even allowed to hold it most times.

Breastfeeding was a hassle, obviously, since he didn’t want to be held while eating. He’d fuss and unlatch so many times my nipples were cracked until finally I gave in and let him be alone. And, while he was alone, he needed a particular set of toys in a particular order or he’d refuse to sleep.

He rarely acknowledges his name or instructions, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not because he’s a “terrible child” and it definitely isn’t because I’m a “terrible mom.”

He just doesn’t seem to hear us sometimes. His hearing isn’t the problem — he has aced that test — but it’s as if we don’t exist sometimes.

He “wanders” everywhere constantly, there seems to be little to no reason behind it. Short of holding him in place, there isn’t a lot to be done. We hover because he isn’t aware of danger, and I won’t let him hurt himself during his wandering.

I will say this again: he isn’t being bad.

When you see him melting down in public, he isn’t being bad. His brain is literally wired differently than yours.

Those meltdowns can last 30 minutes, an hour or more.

A meltdown is completely different than a child throwing a fit. If you’re not aware of the difference, then you have no business judging us. “Being tough” does nothing. Trying to hold him sends him even further into a spiraling meltdown. It’s not about giving him “things.”

His brain gets overwhelmed. Do you have any idea how hard that must be for him? It’s overwhelming for him and he reacts accordingly.

It is impossible to “beat” the autism out of someone because it is a neurological condition. You can’t beat someone’s brain into submission.

Yes, sometimes it hurts my heart when he doesn’t respond like my other kids do. Sometimes it hurts when he doesn’t interact with me the way I am used to. Sometimes it hurts when he seems to ignore other kids because they’re not on his radar.

Sometimes it hurts when he barely looks me in the eye and he doesn’t acknowledge me 50 percent of the time.

But what doesn’t hurt is how amazing he is.

He’s probably the most intelligent child I’ve had the opportunity to be around. His brain sees things differently, so things that may be difficult for others are extremely easy for him. He will track down a laundry basket from upstairs, then bring it downstairs so he can use it to climb onto the freezer and into the kitchen to get himself whatever he needs.

Who else has that kind of determination and ingenuity at 2?

Mother and toddler son taking a selfie. Little boy is cuddled close to his mom as they smile at the camera.

He allows me to find complete joy in the most mundane of things because everything is absolute joy. He doesn’t half in and half out, he 1,000 percent throws himself into the feeling and has the most beautiful genuine happiness I’ve ever witnessed.

His hugs are bone crushing.

And, he cuddles like a second skin; smooshed into my chest, head under my chin, and my arm wrapped around his belly like a seatbelt.

I wouldn’t change him for the world.

Originally published: October 9, 2018
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