Check out Samuel. Yep, the one on the right – striking the yoga pose – while he’s supposed to be in position with his classmates for a song, during his recent spring PK3 concert.
Geez. Such a perfectly symbolic picture for my life as a mom with Autistic children.
And I think that 10 years ago, sitting front row at my child’s concert and watching my child do this? It probably would’ve mortified me.
(Oh wait, it did. Gabriel did things just like this. So did Noah.)
And even 5 years ago, I think I would’ve still been pretty embarrassed.
(Yes, I was...)
I used to be very shallow and insecure (probably still am, but I hope not….) but I grew up caring very deeply about what others thought, and had an overwhelming desire to conform to what I thought society expected of me.
I’ve been working on shedding this mentality for a very long time, and I’m ecstatic to say – that on the day of Samuel’s concert – maybe I’ve finally grown out of it.
I walked into Samuel’s classroom that day knowing full well that he’d stick out. I knew that he’d be bouncing off the walls, and not doing the same moves as the other kids.
And he performed (or rather, didn’t perform) exactly as I expected.
He was all over the place. Jumping when they were standing. Standing when they were jumping. Silent when they were singing. Singing when they were silent. It was like he was intentionally doing everything the opposite of what he was supposed to do.
And for the first time ever, this happened:
I laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. I gave him a thumbs up. I shook my head, took a deep breath, shrugged it off when his shadow teacher shot me an “I’m so sorry!” look, and then took pictures and videos of everything so I could remember it forever.
I wholeheartedly embraced his cute, crazy differences!
It was an a-MAZing, liberating feeling.
And it came out of the blue. It surprised me. I couldn’t believe how OK I was with what was happening.
And I walked out of there happy, and grateful, and honestly, more peaceful than I’ve felt in a long time.
So afterwards, I really reflected. What made this experience so different from all of my prior experiences with the boys’ very public displays of their differences?
Experiences such as when Gabriel was expected to walk across a stage for his KG graduation and instead threw himself to the floor in a screaming tantrum?
Experiences such as when Noah just stood there like an obvious statue when the entire 1st grade class was smiling, singing, and waving their arms in song around him?
Or, when Noah and I are supposed to be decorating cupcakes with his classmates and parents, and he decides to dump an entire container of sprinkles on top and then proceeds to try and inhale them with a straw?
OR, when Samuel is perfectly fine, but the second he sets foot on the PK playground, he decides to throw his toys, then when I sternly tell him to pick them up, instead he throws himself to the ground and just lies there while kids are stepping over him, trying to play?
I’ve had m-a-n-y such experiences – and most of which, in the presence of parents and teachers (most of whom are my colleagues) – who sometimes shoot me judgmental looks of pity, disapproval (or both), or embarrassed smiles, OR, who are so embarrassed for me that they look away or politely flee the scene.
And yep, this used to really bother me.
Not only the awkwardness of this happening in front of other people, but just the repetitiveness of experiencing difference.
I would think, “They are SO different than other kids! EVERYTHING they do is different.
I’M SO !@#$%! TIRED OF THEM BEING SO DIFFERENT!!!!!!!!!
And I don’t know – maybe it’s age, maturity, tired of caring, and/or accepting the inevitable – but I think I’m finally in a place where I can let it roll off.
There is no cure for Autism. They will always have it. They will ALWAYS be different.
Might as well soak it up.
It’s not that I’ve lowered my expectations for what I’m expecting from my children. I don’t want to say that. I think I’ve just altered my expectations.
I’ve stopped expecting them – all three of them – to be the same as other kids.
And, I’ve started anticipating and expecting the differences. In some cases, even looking forward to them.
And as I said, it has given me peace. A certain peace that I don’t think I’ve felt since before we noticed that Gabriel wasn’t talking.
I’m not on the verge of tears anymore when I see Gabriel or Noah wandering by themselves at lunch, as was the case for the last few years, or when I see how Samuel is the only student in an entire sea of children who is wearing big goofy red earphones during an assembly because of his sensitivity to sound.
And it’s not that I don’t still feel a small amount of emptiness when I see them being ostracised or somehow singled out.
I don’t think this feeling will ever go away completely.
Autism is still not a very welcomed guest in our family, but it’s not the mean, hateful intruder that I once perceived it to be.
And I know that if I can’t accept the fact that they will act or behave differently in many of life’s situations – then I’ve got a whole lot of emotional pain ahead of me – pain that might not be necessary – if I can just channel that same mentality as I experienced during Samuel’s concert.
And in the grand scheme, I should never forget how blessed I am to have these precious, little differences in my life. I’m honestly ashamed for ever having felt embarrassed by them, or sorry for them (or for myself) that they can’t completely conform to society’s standards.
Seriously, shame on me. 😦
But I’m human and flawed, so I’ll keep praying and trying, and will never give up on them, or myself, or our family.
So, OK Autism. Bring on your differences. I think I’m finally ready for you.