Monday, June 27, 2011

On the Mountain Trails


My wife, our three kids, and I went to New Hampshire this past weekend for my extended family's annual get-together. I love the White Mountains area and would live there the rest of my life if circumstances ever permitted. There's no break, however, from my son's autism, and I came out of the weekend with one new observation on the way others see my son.

People who aren't familiar with autistic children don't seem to grasp why such kids act up like they sometimes will. They think the kids just need the right instructions given in the proper way. To them, the kids seem quirky, or stubborn, or selfish, or immature, or undisciplined. In short, to them the "problem" is nurture, not nature.

I don't mean to harsh on these people. I think that maybe they sense that our son is different, and it makes them uncomfortable. From his appearance alone, my son looks as though he should behave as any other child. The location of his discrepancy simply isn't apparent. They must think that there's got to be some way to snap my son out of his autism.

I suppose I, too, hope for a magic technique that will help my son calm his body when life forces him out of his comfort zone. I wish I had the correct words and demeanor to keep my son's behavior in balance all the time. I get frustrated when I can't get him to listen to me. But there is no magic, and my wife and I (and our daughters) do the best we can.

Luckily, our families and our friends support us and are as understanding as possible. We also have many great resources that help us to learn about autism and about better and poorer strategies for dealing with an autistic child.

Unfortunately, my wife and I are on a bit of an island with our son. The nuances and pressures of our daily lives are largely invisible to outsiders, even to our families. What is more, our son is on an island of his own, detached from us. This is really the hardest thought, because we don't want him to be alone. We want to reach him and have him able to reach us.

I refuse to be saddened or discouraged by anything about my son's autism, however. As much energy as it takes to care for him, he is also sweet, loving, and independent. We're encouraged that he makes progress at pre-school. And he loves the mountain trails, just like me.

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