Gabriel never fails to ask the really tough questions.
To provide context, he had a sore throat not too long ago, and as it didn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, we went to the doctor.
It was a new doctor, so when we went in, they asked him the standard “new patient” questions, like “Do you have any allergies, what medications are you on, etc.”
So we went through all that, and then they asked if there was any further medical information they needed to know.
I whispered to Gabriel, “Do you want to tell them about the Autism?”
This seemed to irritate him a little, but he replied to them (in a slightly exasperated tone), “YES, I have Autism.”
To this, the nurse didn’t bat an eye but just smiled and said, “OK, thank you for telling us.”
(I was so grateful to her for that – the professionalism and automaticity with which she responded to him).
Then he and I went back out to the waiting room and he went quiet. I asked him if he was OK and he quietly said, “Yes,” but I could tell he wasn’t. I started to second-guess myself and think that maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the Autism – but in hindsight, I’m glad I did. Medically speaking, it’s necessary for them to know; even though he’s 14, he still has a considerable speech delay that could potentially impair his ability to express himself in the future – say if he’s hurt, or on medication, but can’t tell them exactly what or why. At least they would know.
I also think I wanted to try and normalize the Autism… although I’m not sure what I mean by this. I guess really normalizing it would’ve been to NOT mention it, but I do feel very strongly that the Autism is something he needs to own. I’ve seen enough student/parent denial in my time as an educator to know that denying and/or ignoring a disability does NO good. Trying to pretend it doesn’t exist is SO harmful and counterproductive. Much better to hit it head on, own it, figure out how best to deal with it, and move on.
Anyways, we sat there a few minutes quiet, and then he asked, “Mom, can I have a surgery to remove the Autism from my brain?”
My heart dropped into my stomach and I immediately started praying for the right things to say.
“No, honey, the Autism isn’t something that can be removed. It’s part of you and your personality. It’s part of what makes you the wonderful person that you are.”
He replied, “But I want to be intelligent. And I don’t want to be different.”
And here’s where I was immediately grateful for my Special Education background, because I’ve had this conversation countless times with students in Learning Support – as for our students, it’s VERY important that we constantly convey the message that there are MANY kinds of intelligent.
“Sweetheart, do you know what “intelligent” means? It means that you are capable of doing SO many different things!”
And I rattled for at least two straight minutes…
“You can take care of yourself and help take care of our family, like always doing the dishes for our family, or boiling chicken for yourself, or fixing your little brothers a bowl of cereal! You can keep yourself safe like remembering the house keys and always making sure our doors are locked; you can read music and play the trumpet, you can remember things that happened when you were three years old and tell stories about all places you’ve been, you can find absolutely anything you want to on the Internet faster than Daddy or I can (and that is 100% true!). LOOK at everything you can do!”
I actually said a lot more than this, but you get the point…
He seemed to ease up and acted like he felt better after my rant (or, maybe he just wanted me to shut up… 😉
But then, he gave me a shy smile and said, “Yes, but I can’t drive yet…”
Oh Dear God. So it begins…..👀
Anyways, that particular conversation ended, and I can’t necessarily claim success, but he hasn’t mentioned this again, or asked me anything remotely like this since (this happened a few weeks ago), and I do feel like he would keep asking if it were bugging him, so I’m hoping that what I said made him feel better about himself.
But the comments still come.
Random comments every so often about how he doesn’t like to be “different.” He’s also starting to talk about girlfriends. “Mom, when will I have a girlfriend?”
And this one breaks my heart – as I’ve seen / heard this comment from some of my older students with Autism as well.
I tell him the only thing I know to say, “Gabriel, you’re so young, please don’t worry about this. It’ll happen someday; you’ll meet someone, just like Daddy and I met each other.”
I pray I’m right; I hope he will find someone, with or without Autism, who will love him and accept him for who he is.
—His growing up is honestly tough to handle, and it’s not getting any easier.
Daniel & I have a dear friend who is a Pediatrician in Wisconsin, and he was the one who detected Gabriel’s Autism before anyone else. He told us, way back when Gabriel was three, that the Autism would really rear its “ugly head” when Gabriel hit his teenage years.
Well, we’re here, and I’m honestly scared.. He’s so sensitive and self-conscious. I hope we can keep finding the “right” or “semi-right” things to say or do when Gabriel hits us with these tough questions…
And to end on a lighter note (but still along the same lines), Gabriel and I were recently looking a picture of me when I was pregnant with him, and he asked me, “Mom, how did I get IN there?”
Me screaming inside: “!@#$%!”
“Um, well, (imagine me stuttering and stumbling over my words….) I had an egg inside of me, and, um… you grew from the egg.”
Gabriel: “So, HOW did the egg get inside of you? Did you EAT the egg?”
OMG… I can’t imagine how many shades of red my face turned while I was trying not to scream with laughter…!
My mind sort of went blank at this point, but I think I said something to the effect of, “No, sweetheart, I already had the egg inside of me.” And I stopped right there and immediately changed the subject before he could ask me about Daddy’s role in the egg fertilizing process.
Um, yeah. He’s at the age of questions. Tough questions. Some questions that I would never EVER anticipate (although, to be fair, I should’ve anticipated the pregnancy question at some point….).
Such is the parenting life in general, I guess, but throw Autism into the mix and it literally turns into a Forrest Gump situation: “It’s like a box of chocolates, you never know WHAT you’re going to get.”
So please pray for me to be able to think on my feet quickly, restrain my laughter when necessary, and no matter how much a question throws me, enable me to find the words to help him realize that he is exactly the way God intended him to be, Autism and all.