On the first of this year, my boy turned 12. Another year of growing and learning together; discovering what the limitations and the possibilities are, experiencing their pain and their joys. Reflecting on the year and looking forward, these are some thoughts…
His body is changing, his emotions are often at a peak, he is experiencing his sexuality, he is stronger, and he has a will to exert his independence. This year he really started to show this by pushing me away when I tried to help, by letting go of my hand as we walk down the street or in the mall or into his school – wanting to go it alone. I am learning to increasingly back off and let him express his growing sense of self and capability. I try to remind myself to keep my hands from directing him, to limit my words of instruction, to let him experience his sense of dignity and respect, his need to be in control of his own body. I realize how important it is for me to continually give him the tools to be independent.
His desire to be courageous and experience adventure is increasing. What I used to see more as resistance, I see now more clearly as uncertainty and fear. He wants to try new things, and his attempts to initially reject them are not a sign of disinterest, but a sign of genuine fear. I am learning how to give him more time, to encourage him with words that empower: “You can do this, you are strong, you are brave…” Together we’ve experienced the sheer exhilaration of conquering his fears together and the pride of accomplishment; the value of which cannot be measured.
He is learning how to manage change and transitions to a much greater degree. His adaptability this year was severely tested. With his changing body and the hormones which accompany that, to the change in school (and all the incredible changes this represents from teachers to classmates to schedule to building), the birth of his half-sister Kate and the change in dynamic that represents, to my change in schedule as I graduated from university and started working way more than I ever have (Mom’s not around as much, more caregivers, more transitions). He struggled through the spring and summer with regular bouts of depression and self imposed isolation which tortured me. But he kept plugging along. He emerged from that period and pushed himself through all the changes and transitions. He grew stronger because of them and has embraced the new school, the new family, the new realities around him with success and admirable courage.
He is increasingly ready to learn and it is up to us to engage him, to adapt materials for him, to make what we teach him relevant and meaningful to him and to the way he sees and processes the world. He is clever and keen, eager and willing. This means our responsibility is great. We have introduced a new tactile language. He caught on to it exceedingly quick. We have devised new curriculum for him at school; involving self care skills in the kitchen, community, hygiene and independent travel. We try to bring learning to him in a tactile, concrete, relevant way. This is a constant challenge; it takes creativity and out of the box thinking, it takes a team that is committed and on the same page. It continues to be a work in progress.
For me the year has been full and rich; full of hard work, disappointment, pain, sadness, impotence…but rich in love, joy, pride, tears, and exhilaration. I am learning that often there is no solution, there is only the struggle and ability to let things be. “It is what it is” often runs through my mind. I won’t always be able to help him or know what is wrong, but he can always know that I’m here, I’m loving him, and I’m trying. I am learning that when I do find a solution, I am tenacious and dedicated and have endless energy towards ensuring it is implemented. I am appreciating the amazing sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done. I am learning to accept work that doesn’t get done; the books on autism which still lay unread and unstudied on the shelf, the learning activities yet to be tried, the ideas yet to be implemented. I am learning to accept that on many days it is not about learning together; but about being together, enjoying the present for what it is, simply taking the smiles and the closeness as a gift unto itself.
This year in pictures…