Perspective…it’s a wonderful thing. What else could allow multiple people to view the same scene and take from it just as many different ideas? Nothing.
I looked outside this afternoon after son2 had dutifully done his part to help with family chores by mowing the yard only to find son3/daughter2’s pool full of freshly cut grass. Details…perspective…son2: Mowing is done!; mom: Add clean the pool to the list.; son3: Let’s go SWIMMING!!!
Ben has a different perspective on life than pretty much everyone else on the face of the earth. It might be easy to think, “But there are thousands of people on the spectrum.” True, but if you know one person on the spectrum, you know ONE person on the spectrum. Each person is so very different from the next, neurotypical, autistic, you name it. We’re all different. And yet, we are all linked by shared experiences and to an extent, we are all so very much alike.
Everyone is affected by back to school time, I don’t care who you are. Even if you’re not a parent, you still have to wait for the school buses and if you’re on facebook, you are bombarded with back to school pictures of kids and buses pulling away. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve posted the same type of photos in the last week. It’s somewhat of a rite of passage for public school parents, watching your kids ride off to new adventures with excitement and a little hesitation for each one of them.
Our experiences are much the same as other parents. Chris made arrangements to go in to work a little later than normal so we could stand together and watch as all five of our kids got on the bus together for the first time on the first day of school. It was first day of monumental proportions for our family. Our oldest, Rob, is a sophomore, but with the school consolidation, this was his first day at a new school, with new classmates, in a new town. Our middle two, Tom and Jac, entered middle school this year as sixth graders, also with new classmates. Ben started kindergarten and his little sidekick, Ali, began preschool. As if all this wasn’t enough, a friend was quick to point out that on next year’s first day of school, Rob will be old enough to drive all of them to school! GULP! (That’s another column for another day, for sure!)
However, because of autism, our fears and hesitations are a bit intensified. Nothing brings more mixed emotions than a mid-day phone call when the caller id shows the school’s number. Thankfully, it was simply a call to say the first day went great and share some thoughts for the next. Yes, I think this new team of Ben’s might work out just fine.
As I sit to ponder what I want to share with each of the kids at the start of this school year, I realize our big three are getting older and because of their younger brother, they have different life experiences than their peers and this may have just prepared them a little better for all the changes that lie ahead of them because of the consolidation. They know difference because they live it. They know confusion because they live it as we often don’t know what has caused whatever current problem Ben struggles so hard to describe. They know frustration because they see someone they love so dearly live with it. And yet, they also know joy – the pure joy that comes when belly laughing so hard with your siblings you can hardly stand up. They know the pride and excitement that comes when everything clicks and Ben can explain exactly what he’s thinking of and we understand every word he says. And they know unconditional love, the kind that comes with caring for someone so deeply, you’d take a hit for them or even from them just because you know it’s going to help them work out the frustration.
Because of all of this, they do have a different perspective on life in general, but also specifically on all the changes going on right now. They know there are going to be bumps in the road, and that’s okay. They know there are going to be challenges and they won’t always understand what’s going on, and that’s okay. They know they’re going to get lost in their new buildings at least once, and that’s okay, too, because they know there are people who care about them and will help them get back on the right track.
I saw a phrase a few weeks ago and absolutely love the message in it and it seems so fitting now, that this is what I’m thinking in terms of a back to school theme for our kids this year: “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”
Seems like pretty great advice for all of us: Be strong enough to stand alone when peers, friends, coworkers are headed in a direction you know isn’t best for you; smart enough to know when you need help – physically, mentally, emotionally; and brave enough to ask for it…ooooooooooooohhhhh, now that is a tough one!
I remember back in our pre-diagnosis days when Ben would have a rough day and we just didn’t have a clue what was going on, there were many days I felt isolated and alone, days that I wanted to throw in the towel and walk away or worse try to discipline the fits out of him. But I had to have the strength to stand alone when others were telling me how I needed to do this or that or the other with or to my child when I knew better. I may not have known exactly what was going on, but I knew this child was not a bad or naughty child who simply needed discipline. He needed me to be strong enough to stand for him and to be smart enough to ask for help.
I will never forget that first phone call I made to start investigating what may be going on with our son. I called a distant cousin of mine who had never met Ben. I called him because the last time I’d seen him, his son had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is also on the spectrum. Even though our sons are several years apart in age and Ben was not even three, I had already begun to see some similarities. So I called my cousin and simply said, “Tell me about your son. Everything. I’m seeing some things in Ben and I really just need to know everything.” For the next 30 minutes I listened and took notes on every minute detail my cousin could recall and when he asked why, I responded with a long sigh and a heavy heart, “I think you just described my son. What do we do now?” I had to be strong enough to stand for my son, but also smart enough to know my limits, to know when we needed help, and then brave enough to ask for it.
That was not an easy phone call to make, not by a long shot. I had never called this cousin before. We hadn’t seen each other for years. He’d never even met my son. But, I knew I had to do something and because I made that phone call, and asked for help, we were able to get the ball rolling for Ben. Next came several doctor appointments, months of waiting, and finally a trip to Easter Seal’s diagnostic clinic where our thoughts, our fears, were confirmed. Our son has autism. Even when you think you already know what is coming and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you need a firm diagnosis to get your son the help he needs, the statement, “Your son has autism.” still packs quite a punch and the blow can be devastating. However, it was only then that we could begin to address those fears and the multitude of questions that followed. We needed help to look past the fears and to push forward in order to get help for our son. And he has come so very far!!! He is in kindergarten with his peers. Yes, he has a long way to go, but again, perspective, I’m choosing to look at how far he has come. The journey ahead will be there tomorrow and the next day and every day after that. Right now, in this moment, I’m choosing to smile over how far he has come. We’ll tackle the road ahead tomorrow with a fresh, well-rested perspective, after he gets on that big yellow bus and heads off for another kindergarten adventure.