Josh: embracing autism his way
I wanted to write about how my son, Josh, and how he is embracing autism. However, before I begin writing about this topic, I want others to know that this is our personal story and we don’t claim to know everything about autism. Every child with autism is different and therefore there is no one method that works for every child. We have made our share of mistakes when it comes to raising our children, but I also believe that mistakes are lessons to be learned. Here is our story:
When Josh was diagnosed at 3 years old with having autism, at the time, it never occurred to me that one day I would have to tell him that he had autism. But the time came when he was seven. He began noticing differences between him and his twin brother, Jack. He didn’t understand why he was
being pulled out of regular class to go to a ‘resource’ class when Jack got to stay with his class all day. He didn’t understand why his homework was different if they were in the same grade. He didn’t understand why his own reactions to things were different then others around him. I realized that we needed to have the talk. I knew he was still too young to fully understand what autism was but I thought that if he had a ‘name’ for it, he could grow to understand and begin embracing autism…and he did…slowly.
At first, I told him that he had autism and that it sometimes caused him to feel very frustrated especially when things were not going his way. I told him that when he didn’t complete tasks because of his frustrations, he had to go to another class to help him finish his work and that is why he had different homework. I avoided using the word, “special”, just because it means something so different now. This was as simple as I could make it for him to understand.
With this understanding, Josh’s behavior did improve a little. Not only did his frustration levels decrease somewhat but the number of frustration ‘episodes’ were also decreasing. Unfortunately, I also noticed that after he calmed down from one of his episodes, he felt terrible and began blaming himself. He would say that he hated his brain and sometimes, he would hit himself. This was not what I had anticipated happening. I realized that I needed to come up with another way to explain autism. I needed to redefine autism.
While all this was going on, at about 8 years old, Josh began exhibiting other abilities. He started memorizing the states, not alphabetically but in order of the date of their statehood. Eventually, he moved onto to presidents. He began devouring more and more books. Not story books, but scientific
textbooks, history books, atlases… His need for information was astounding. He began watching the news with me interested in the world outside; he also began ’empathizing’, promising me that he would find a cure for cancer, or come up with a way to stop wars. It took me a couple of years, but I realized I had a way I could explain autism that was unique to him.
I had heard from various sources, some of them from movies, that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity. Now, I’m not sure how much truth there is to that but I used this in my explanation to my son. I told him that his autism gave him special abilities that many average adults did not have. This has been the case as most adults who have come to know Josh are shocked by his intellect. I told him to think about it this way: where as most people might use 10%, I told him that he probably uses a little more thanks to his autism. It worked.
I have also pointed out to him that many of his episodes are not his fault but ours, we, the 10 percenters. For example, when he was learning to write his name, teachers would have him practice writing his name on a sheet of paper repeatedly. This was the type of homework that would come home with a note asking us to get him to finish the task because he had had an episode. One day I asked him why he refused to do this one simple task. He looked at me and asked, “why do I have to keep doing it over and over if I already know how to do it once?” I just sat there stunned. In a way, he was right. He knew how to spell his name (although his handwriting was another story). Naturally, I had to use that as an excuse to get him to complete the task. But he was right about having to do something over and over unnecessarily. I mean, at the time, he was only in 1st grade, and would have plenty of opportunities for writing and practicing his name without having to do this assignment. So can I really blame him for getting frustrated? He is a boy with autism living in a world full of people without autism.
Josh began embracing autism. He was realizing that his autism was not such a bad thing. That if it wasn’t for his autism, he might not be as smart as he is (whether this is true or not I didn’t care). He was finally getting away from hating and hitting himself. He has actually started bragging to people that he has autism. He even sometimes compares himself to Einstein, who, of course, is someone who supposedly had autism as well. He now wears his autism like a badge of honor and thinks of himself as one of the elite.
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