Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Autistic Kid

I forget to blog here sometimes. When my son was little, I would blog all the time, because he seemed to be changing every week. And it was all fascinating. What he ate was interesting, the way he learned to walk and move and communicate was fascinating. I do less of that now.

It's not that he's no longer interesting. It's just that, well, he's older. Change happens more slowly, but it is absolutely happening. He's in fifth grade now. He played baseball for the first time last spring, and in a few weeks, we'll be signing him up for baseball again. He has friends, he plays kickball on the playground. He's hilarious. He's insightful and witty and warm and loving. He's a great kid. He still fascinates me.

For those who don't know, my son was diagnosed as autistic when he was in first grade. My son is 10 and a half and he was diagnosed when he was in 1st grade. So ... he was six and a half.

This is what it looked like, in the months before he was diagnosed. We knew something was different about him. We just didn't know what it was.

Dealing with It, Whatever It Is

My son's got some stuff that he has to deal with. We saw some behavior-related issues last year, but with support from his teachers and other school staff, plus the invaluable help of a therapist that works wonderfully with children, he got better. It wasn't a perfect year, but he ended the year on a good note.
This year - first grade - we saw a lot of the same things. We tried the same kind of techniques that had worked last year, but they didn't seem to be working. There's physical stuff like hitting and getting in other kids' spaces.

There's name-calling. Unprovoked incidents with other kids. It's all behavior that we just don't understand.

See, our son used to be the kind of kid who was described as "really centered." Or "zen." "He's so calm," the other parents would say at play dates. And suddenly, we were in our second meeting in two straight years with the principal, the teachers, plus various other school staff. Suddenly, we'd be dropping him off at school and other kids would run up to us and tell us that he was being mean to them. Or that he had written on their book. Or hit them. This happens a lot.
 So ... we're talking to people. He's still seeing his therapist, but now we're going the next step. We're doing a deeper psychological evaluation on him, running some tests to see what else is going on with him. We might be dealing with ADD. Maybe some sensory issues (things like heightened sensitivity to noise or crowds). Or maybe something like Asperger's.

I resisted the idea of him being autistic at first, because I didn't know anything about it. Literally all I knew about autism was "Rain Man" and the kid in St. Elsewhere. That was it. That was my social context.

I was scared. I don't mind saying it. I didn't know what a diagnosis of autism meant. I didn't know what it would mean to have an autistic son. So I was scared.

But understanding autism helped me understand him more. Most importantly, I understood more about how he saw and experienced the world, and I found out about ways we could help him. He's been seeing a therapist since 1st grade. He's been in a social skills group since 2nd grade. This group, with other kids his age, helps teach him about social interactions like conversations, things that NT people take for granted but are fraught with unspoken rules and norms. The group has been incredibly helpful for him.

He's done occupation therapy before and that's been very helpful as well. He has a lot of sensory stuff - particularly needing deep physical input. When he was little, he would run from across the room and do these tackle hugs. Sometimes, they were strong enough that I almost lost my footing. Physical input. When he did OT, he loved things like diving into ball pits and mats. For a while, I would have him dive chest-first into a beanbag or onto the mattress a few times before he went to school, just so he could get that need met and he wouldn't be craving it at school. (At school, he would often bump into other kids in line, or swing his lunch bag around and accidentally hit them. We think this was him sensory input-seeking behavior. His teachers at the time, unfortunately, had trouble seeing it as anything other than him causing trouble. Sigh.)

My son is an intelligent, witty, joyful kid who reads constantly. Last year his teacher called him "brilliant" and I don't think that's an exaggeration. He also has Aspergers. It's a part of who he is. It's not the thing that holds him back, any more than having black hair holds him back. It's part of who he is.

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