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Why I Believe My Son's Autistic Brain Is More Robust Than Mine

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We will soon be coming up to the four year anniversary of Sam’s diagnosis of autism spectrum condition. That vernacular has probably changed since then, I don’t know. It’s what we were given on diagnosis day.

So if we’re to go off that, it is a condition my son lives with, has had since birth, and that we’ve supported for the last four years.

During that time, I can’t count how many times I used to think and say out loud, “What I wouldn’t give to spend a day inside his head, see the world through his eyes.”

Even though I’ve been able to train myself in ways designed to make things less demanding of him — the basics, like giving him time to process requests, limiting the language I use when talking to him, not using 10 words when two will do, giving him space when I can see he needs it — these things work for everybody while reducing the stress he can feel.

I’ve got that down now. It’s second nature. My nature. What I find a bit more difficult is Sam doesn’t always know what he needs, or he does, but his needs can change so rapidly that I just have to let him lead me or I can exacerbate his upset 100 percent. An easy example of this is when Sam needs me near, though not to touch him. Sometimes he will reach out to me but push me away instantly. My head struggles to cope with that a bit, but I stay by him and see it through with him.

So the autistic brain, in my opinion, simply has to be so much more robust than mine.

My son is 6 years old. He started with the odd word or two about three years ago. He isn’t conversational yet, but has a pretty big vocabulary. The one thing he can’t yet do is use any language while he is having a meltdown or coping with sensory overload. So I guess, sometimes rightly other times wrongly on what he needs, but I try.

He is not blind or deaf, and has been able to see and hear the world around him since he was born. He lives in this world and sees it in a way not many of us can understand. Not everyone knows his struggle, but he is a beautiful charismatic little man who lights up the world around him and does what he does because that’s all he knows. The world is a really big place, but for Sam, we make it small. Small chunks to take it bit by bit, and as he grows, hopefully together we can expand on our places within it. We do everything in Sammy time.

He may not understand why something will trigger a meltdown in him, and sometimes he becomes frozen to the spot, unable to calm himself until it passes. His adrenaline will spike so high that he falls asleep very quickly afterwards to recover from whatever he has experienced. He is 6 years old. Can you imagine the mental stress when your emotions become so heightened you have no control? I see it often, but it is nothing I can truly compare it to. I used to think it odd that Sam could be one way, then the next minute be fine and move on. It’s not odd, it’s the complexities of his brain. And I’m guessing here, but for him I imagine an internal circuit breaker.

I could give you a hundred examples of the hard times I witness him going through, but for me, that is not the hardest part to see. The hardest part is afterwards, when he is wiped out. Recovering. That breaks me a little. He is 6, experiencing a gamut of emotions I don’t have the ability to comprehend. To go through that level of stress regularly is something as a parent we see because we are there, and we can empathise, but we can’t know. We all only know how we feel, and if like Sam you can’t explain it or reach out to ask for help and you dust yourself off and try again every single day… that is brave.

That takes a strength I can do nothing but admire and be proud that my son, with his differing neurology is so strong. I’m sad I can’t take the stress away, but I’m in awe that he walks through it, mainly with a laugh and a smile on his face.

I wish I could see inside his head. I’d do anything anytime to understand my boy better. But I don’t think the neurotypical brain could hack the depth of how an autistic brain works.

I see individuals with autism as strong. One bad day can leave me feeling deflated for days. I imagine they probably do too, but I see my child and others on the autism spectrum bounce back and do it all again.

Originally published: July 17, 2019
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