Autism: The Eye of the Storm

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My boy is 13 now and, you are right…those early years of diagnosis and first realizations of autism are tremendously tumultuous and hurtful. Hurtful because so much is unknown and there is nothing more fearful for a parent than the unknown.

I remember that well.

I remember those early years in our spectrum journey as almost a tornado.  YES…seriously…a TORNADO.

It’s like a tornado you are swirling in the middle of and it’s hard and it hurts and there are no super easy answers.  NONE.  Sometimes it’s hard to simply know which way is up.  Sometimes it’s hard to get your bearings and any answers you think you’ve found in one moment seem elusive in the next.  It’s just hard and sometimes it’s hard for a long time, for years.  Moments filled with struggle, with confusion and with feelings of failure because the fear always forces you to face the fact that you never really know if you’re doing it right.

But then one day, when your kiddo is maturing and progressing and growing, this crazy moment happens.  One day you look back and you realize the tornado is actually subsiding.  Yes, subsiding.  The winds are no longer blowing you about and the air is finally more still than it has been in a long time and that stillness settles around you too.

Suddenly, you look back across your journey and you see how far you have come and that your kiddo, somewhere in that chaos that filled your life and made it hard for you to even breathe, has become more than you ever imagined.  All the fears you had of him never making it are suddenly gone.  No, he may not be perfect and his struggles are not over but, truly, he IS a miracle and he’s absolutely brilliant in  your eyes.

You finally realize in a profound moment, as you enter that second decade of your autism journey, that autism may never have been an easy path or even a desired path in the beginning but it’s actually been a huge learning process for you AND you ARE a better and changed person because of it.

It is truly an astonishing moment, I assure you, and a moment we come to in our own time.  It took nine years for me to have that gobsmacking moment.  Some come to it sooner than I did while some find it later but finding it is what matters…no matter the time table.

I am admittedly hard headed and slow.

I have two typical kiddos in addition to my spectrum kiddo and, I can tell you with complete honesty, I would not change a thing.  Despite the tears, heartache and hurt we have been through, I would walk the same journey again. The early years on the spectrum journey are HARD and sometimes they hurt like nothing else in this world but autism changes over time and the tornado subsides and the sun shines and the smiles, in time, do overcome the sadness.  I urge you parents in the eye of the storm of those early years…don’t be too hard on yourself. Autism is an evolving process and it takes time.  Give yourself that time as you learn to Sparkle On in the face of the storm, my friends.  Because what you don’t realize right now is that you are indeed just as brilliant as the spectrum kiddos you are raising!  Hugs and love to you all!

Autism Wins the Crash

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Sitting on the offramp waiting for the light to turn green, I realized the street in front of us was the same one the news station noted as having the cheapest gas of the day.  $3.32, is what I think they said and it got my attention because the last time I filled up, I paid $3.83.  The street I was looking at was not in my part of town so I wondered if I just kept following it and checking gas prices, if I’d eventually just run into it.

That’s what I was thinking when the WHACK whacked my boys and I and got our full attention.  It has been right at thirty years (when I was 16 or so) since I’ve had any sort of car accident (knock on wood) so it surprised me.

My boys both yelled in shock, “Mom, did someone just hit us?”

“I think so.” I calmly told them.  Everyone was wearing seat belts and it did not throw our car so we were good.

I put the car in gear and walked back to the other vehicle.  He was in an older, full size pick up and I could see some minor denting on his front bumper.  “We’ll need to call the police and I’ll need your insurance information.”

He spoke with a strong accent as he told me, “It was the brakes.”

“We’ll need to call and report it.” I said.

I realized I  needed to get my phone and make the call so I began to walk back to the car to remove the phone from the cubby it sat in since, today, my shorts have no pockets.  It was as I was reaching for my phone that I noticed him leaving our left hand turn lane in a big hurry, scooting across two other lanes, and scurrying off into a right hand turn.  All of this happening while I was still standing in the street beside my car.

I was speechless.

He just left.  He just left?  What?  People don’t run away.  Oh, it donned on me…this is a hit and run.  Oy vey…a hit and run?  Really?  Because I’m sure my schedule says our Despicable Me 3D movie starts at 10:30 and I can’t believe we’re going to miss Gru and the Minions because of THIS.

This is the moment when I remembered I did not have his license plate number and I NEEDED it.  I asked my eleven year old to get a pen out of my purse and I began to call out the license number. We all began to say it over and over to try and remember the succession of letters and numbers.

Did I mention when the adrenaline flows in me I get pretty scattered?  Did I mention forty year old eyes are not nearly as precise as twenty year old eyes?  Yeah…THAT.

Without much thought, and because the traffic had now cleared, I crossed those same two lanes of traffic and tried to follow after him.  He was traveling fast and I was behind him but he was way ahead of me by now and I could only see the tail end of his truck as he turned into a parking lot off the main road.  Within thirty seconds I was in that same parking lot but all I could see was the corner of his truck again, turning another corner.  I sped through the parking lot and made that corner right as I saw him turning into the Residence Inn and then into a parking space.

For a gentle and forgiving minute, I though maybe he hadn’t run away.  I naively went to that forgiving girl place that excused him and told myself, maybe he is staying here at the motel and just thought I was following him.  Yeah, I went there.  It didn’t take him long to startle a bit as he saw me parked behind him as he began to get out of the truck and it took him even less time to jump back in and punch the accelerator into reverse.

As my youngest son asked, “Mom, is he going to hit us again?” I was thankful that I had not blocked his path because he certainly would have.  He jammed to get out of the parking space and then around another corner until he was out of the lot.

Right about that moment was when I noticed my hands shaking as I tried to grab my cell and call 9-1-1.  It took me a minute to hit the right numbers but I did not lose sight of the truck and I asked both boys to make sure we had the license plate right.  When the 9-1-1 operator answered and let me know I could stop because I had the plate number, we stopped.  “What was the license plate number,” he asked.

That is when I asked my boys and they each had a different version of the number.  That’s when I got nervous because, at that second, my brain was mush. “Both my boys have a different version,” I admitted.  “But, I’ll tell you one of my boys is on the spectrum and he has this crazy, nearly photographic, memory and I’d go with his version if I had to because he is pretty amazing when it comes to numbers.”

He laughed like it was no big deal.  He said to head to a nearby restaurant parking lot by the main road and he’d send an officer to take the report.

It was less than a minute before my phone was ringing with an unfamiliar phone number listed.    I wasn’t sure who it was but I answered and, even though it is summer time, it was one of my spectrum kiddos teachers.

“Hey I just saw you on the offramp.  I was the car behind that truck that hit you and I saw him speed away.  Do you need the license plate number?”

Yeah, life is crazy like that.  True story and it happened just  like that.

I got a pen and paper out and I wrote down the number she gave me and,  sure enough, my spectrum kiddo nailed it.  Had the number memorized perfectly even though he did not have the pen and paper to write it down.  His brain is brilliant like that.  Don’t waste your time telling me that autism is less because, that spectrum kiddo of mine, he has some serious real world skills.  When times get a little nutty, that boy rocks the chaos and he wins in the crash.

We turned around to go meet the CHP officer at that parking lot on the main road to report the incident.  I don’t know if they will find the man who ran away but I know I did my part.  I  learned a great lesson about my boy and I also used the teachable moment that it was to share with my boys how important it is to never shirk your responsibility.  That if you make a mistake, it’s just a mistake and can be fixed.  But running away?  That’s entirely different.  Running away from your responsibility…that’s something that destroys your character and that, my friends, that can’t be fixed so easily.  It is one of the few things that will make you less.  Autism never will.

The best part of that morning is my boys and I still made it to see Despicable Me and that little movie was worth every minute :). Great flick and just as funny during the credits.  Don’t forget to stay for the credits.  GREAT 3D stuff AFTER the movie so stay seated!