Tuesday, December 9, 2014

As Normal As Possible

Recently I was given some unsolicited advice on how I could make my 14 year old son with autism appear “as normal as possible”.

Please note the refrain of obscenities I really, really want to use here.

Instead, I will let you all know what we, in our family, consider “normal”.  

In our family, in our world of living with autism, it is “normal” to:

  • Prepare our son before a trip of all the details, including duration and type of travel, sleeping arrangements, planned activities, food options or lack thereof, who we will be visiting, free time activities, and any other information we can possibly collect. 

  • Begin these conversations at least a week ahead of travel time, and mention bits and pieces here and there every day until departure.  Unplanned surprises are not our friend.

  • Engage in deep breathing exercises and body squeezes when our son’s sensory system is overloaded, or when he starts to show signs of stress.

  • Cook 2 meals at every sitting - one for us, and a separate one for TJ and his sensory based palate.

  • Arrive at school pick up 30-45 minutes early so I can park where he knows to find me.

  • Be outside my car, rain, shine or snow, if I can’t get to my regular parking place at school, to remind him to look both ways before crossing the street to get to my car.  Otherwise, he darts across the street the second he sees me, and those high school drivers are not the most aware.

  • Celebrate when I get an email from school that says “TJ initiated a conversation with another student in art today!”  This has happened once.  It was a huge celebration.

  • Forward pictures to relatives of chopped vegetables and cooked bacon that TJ prepared on cooking class, all by himself, without any cuts or finger loss.

  • Spend a half an hour asking TJ questions to figure out why he has his dimple grin, which tells us he is up to no good, or has something inappropriate stuck in his head.

  • Be sworn at during an autism meltdown, only to have him curled up in a crying heap 15 minutes later, asking for forgiveness and angry at himself that he lost his temper.

  • Block the door at the beginning of a meltdown so TJ doesn’t bolt from the house and disappear.

  • Truly cherish small successes, that for us are huge.  Like a hug.

  • Cry silently when we hear our son with autism tell our typical developing son that he loves him.

And many, many more things that are in our “normal” every day lives.  

But most importantly, for us, “normal” is wanting both our boys to simply be happy with who they are.  Not try to be something they are not.

Autism or not. 

And that’s our “normal”.

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