As my kids are getting older I’m finding myself in an unexpected position. You see, five years ago, when the diagnoses were coming fast and furious, I went through somewhat of a crisis of faith. So many challenges were cropping up. Fears for my kids’ futures began to loom large. I grieved the loss of my vision for my family. But then came a period of relative calm. I came to a clearer understanding and acceptance of our situation. I resolved to fight for my kids’ rights at school. I determined that nothing would come between Katie and me as we took up the challenges that we faced. I had, to a large degree, made peace with it all. Yes, it was going to require extra work to help our kids be successful, but by gum, we were going to do it. We were going to be the autism family!
But there’s something about this autism thingy that took me by surprise. It shifts and swirls. It’s never the same thing year after year—or month after month. I’m finding myself surprised at some of the challenges my kids are facing as they get older. Some are completely new, while others are just more intense versions of what we saw a few years ago.
So while I honestly have made peace with a number of aspects of our family’s make-up, I’m also feeling more at war with others. Not war as if I’m fighting against my kids, mind you. More like a war within myself in terms of embracing our latest “new normal.” Let me try to explain.
Serenity Now . . .
I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids are going to be different. In many ways, I enjoy their differences—their quirky take on life, their brutal honesty, the innocence with which they approach life. I’ve also made peace with the fact that I’m going to be advocating for them and teaching them to advocate for themselves for quite a few years to come. Even though it sounds like a cliché, different, not less really does describe our kids as well as the way we look at them.
I’ve made peace with the fact that my family is going to stick out, and not just because there are so many of us. For instance, on those rare occasions when we go out to eat, I’ve come to expect the unusual. Like one kid will get up and start wandering around the restaurant because he or she can’t sit still. Or another will have to go stand outside halfway through the meal because of sensory overload. Or a third will end up curled up on his chair or under the table to avoid the noise. People will stare, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.
I’ve made peace with the fact that members of our extended family, well-intentioned and big-hearted as they are, won’t always get it. It doesn’t bother me that I’ll probably be explaining things until the day I die. It doesn’t bother me, either, when one of them offers unsolicited advice based on what works for his or her neurotypical child. It doesn’t even bother me that our kids aren’t involved in all the extracurricular activities that their peers enjoy. That’s probably because I’ve also made peace with the fact that we’re going to be spending more time in therapists’ waiting rooms than on soccer fields and tennis courts.
Finally, I’ve made peace with the fact that money will always be tight. With therapies and related health problems, our expenses are more than the average family’s. Plus, we’ve got six kids!
Insanity Later . . .
I haven’t made peace with the thought that our kids still have a long way to go. Now that our oldest two are well into adolescence, I’m getting a sense of the wild ride that comes when you mix autism with hormones. I’m also getting glimpses of the difficulties they’ll face as they lurch toward independence. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for those. Schools have behavioral counselors. Churches usually are welcoming, understanding places. But employers—well, that’s a completely different story.
I haven’t made peace with the other diagnoses that have come attached to our kids’ ASD. It’s bad enough that they have social and communication deficits. Do they really have to deal with crippling depression, intense mood swings, OCD, and emotional dysregulation? Does it really have to be so hard for them?
I haven’t made peace with the fact that many of my kids will find it hard to establish and maintain relationships in the real world. The thought of them being alone kills me—even more than the thought that some of them may never leave home. It kills me to think about all the people who will overlook how cool and kind and sharp and loveable our kids are. Our kids deserve to be loved!
Finally, I haven’t made peace with the way I let our ASD-dominated life close in on me. We don’t often do things as a family, because some of our kids will have a hard time. We don’t live too far from Washington, DC, with sites like the White house or the National Air and Space Museum. But a few of our kids simply cannot handle crowds. So we don’t go. Our hometown is surrounded by mountains and woodlands. But a few of our kids become very anxious when exposed to the sounds and smells of nature. So we don’t go. Just the idea of taking some kids to the movies makes me break into a cold sweat. I know there are ways to help them through all of this. I also know which ones might do well in a museum and which ones might do well in the woods, so I can always divide and conquer. But I just don’t have the fight in me. I’m often too worn out by the daily challenges of ASD life to even consider trying something new.
I know, I know. I’ll probably end up making peace with these things, just as I did with the others. I know, too, that God isn’t finished with me or my kids yet. But dammit, wouldn’t it be nice to catch a break every now and again? Does everything have to be so difficult?
I guess in some ways I’m like every other parent. I want the best for my kids, and I hate it when they struggle. The only difference is that my kids have more struggles than the average kid, so I have to be stronger to help see them through it.
And believe me, I will. Just let me catch my breath first.