My oldest child; my beautiful Autistic son; my brilliant and confounding “G-Prime” has had a week from hell. It’s important to state how well he does on a daily basis. He has come so far and worked so hard to function in a way that is not disturbing to the people around him. He has learned how to make connections with new people and navigate daily hurdles and I am so, so proud of him. The fact remains that every day is a new day of learning, and trying, and being uncomfortable, and stretching, and winning, and losing…and it is hard work for him!
His most recent challenge is a combined English/Global Studies research project on Iran. He is supposed to research the country and write a paper about the relationship between Iran and the US and how nuclear weapons, terrorism, and government affects that relationship. On Tuesday, he was told that he had to write out 21 notecards worth of research by Friday, using 5 different references; three from databases and two from websites. Then, he would need to write an outline over the weekend. I’m going to set aside the fact that G-Prime struggles with highly emotional topics…
*cough* terrorism *cough*
…and just focus on the mechanical challenges.
G-Prime hates writing with a “fiery passion,” as he puts it. The sad fact is that he is in the 8th grade this year and writing is more and more a part of his daily work. He has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at his school and this helps to adjust the coursework to something manageable for him, but he still has assignments that need to be done and writing is a part of those assignments. My boy has wonderful ideas and a deep understanding of many subjects, so his issue with writing lies somewhere in the mechanics. When it comes time to lay pencil to paper, just the idea of doing so sends him into a fit of Biblical proportions. (Think wailing, gnashing of teeth, and if there were a sackcloth and ash handy I am sure he’d be tearing and throwing them.)
G-Prime’s newest therapist had suggested having him evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (OT) to see if they could determine the reason for his mental/physical writing block. Maybe they would have the key to unlock his writing abilities? The evaluation showed interesting results: G-Prime’s fine motor skills appear to be normal, his gross motor skills appear to be normal. However, when he had to work at a certain speed or within a time limit he failed every time. When he had to do combined movements, he struggled to complete the tasks assigned. This showed that every ounce of his brainpower was going into making his body do the most basic mechanical skills, so anything added onto that was completely overwhelming. When I applied this to his writing assignments, “Eureka!”
Asking him to use creative skills to come up with a story, or process written information and put it into a new format, while physically placing pencil on paper is akin to asking you or I to recite the alphabet backward while rubbing our bellies and patting our heads. It’s not impossible, but it is mentally exhausting! Hence, every time he receives a new writing assignment he can only think of how hard it will be, which reminds him of how mentally exhausting it is, which quickly leads him down the path of being emotionally overwhelmed. This is exactly where he was when he came home last week with his new assignment; emotionally overwhelmed.
The OT we now see has been working with G-Prime on recognizing his Zones of Regulation (click on link to learn more about this) and moving between them using coping skills and behaviours. This requires him to be more aware of himself, his feelings, and his environment. Having a writing assignment to complete in a classroom environment is a great opportunity to practice the skills he’s learning, but he’s still very new to all of this. We’ve only been seeing the OT for two weeks, so G-Prime needs lots of direction and reminders. As we talked through his latest problem and the therapist guided him through calming techniques (squeezing his thumbs, rubbing his forehead, tracing the infinity symbol) he spoke aloud his biggest fear.
“I know how lucky I am to have my Mom and Dad. When I have to do writing and stuff and I think I am going to lose my mind, they help me feel better and get through it. I know I couldn’t do it without them, but one day I will be alone. What will I do then? It scares me,” and his eyes became watery and his head hung low.
As he spoke these words; his truth, my heart ballooned inside of me. I am so thankful that he trusts me and his father and knows that even when we ask him to do very hard things, we will be there to help him through it. All of it. To him, we represent safety and unconditional love and that is something I have longed for him to feel and know. Then, I took in his broken body language and my heart stuttered and hurt. My big, beautiful 13 year old son had a very real fear; one that I have, too. He is afraid that Daddy and I are “it” for him and when we are gone there will be no one else and he will no longer be able to navigate his world. I am afraid that I will spend time setting up a network of help and resources for him and because none of them are me or Dad, he will refuse to accept any of it until no one wants to help him any longer.
Both of our fears stem from legitimate concerns and while it is hard to see G-Prime scared, I recognized that this was an opportunity. It is a sign of growth that he saw that his dependency, while appropriate now, could become a major problem in the future. Seeing and acknowledging the problem is the first step toward change. So, his father and I took this as an opportunity to coach him in a new direction. I assured him that he will always have people in his life that will care for him and be there for him (his siblings/family members/friends/co-workers/teachers/etc). My husband, D, impressed on him that they can only help as much as he allows them to. He may not like that they don’t help the same way I do or say the things that D says, but imperfect help is still helpful. While accepting it can be uncomfortable it will always be preferable to isolated misery. And he heard us. And this week was better.
Allowing my children to grow is painful. Watching them struggle, and try, and fail is hard. The hardest. I want to run in and rescue and save and make it all easier…for them and for those around them. I know what G-Prime needs and I know how to help in the way he likes, BUT if I never give anyone else the chance to try and help him then I am crippling him. How can he enter into a life of independence if I never give him opportunities to practice independence? Why would he ever accept another person’s help if I never give them a chance to help? He is transitioning into a new phase of adulthood and I am transitioning into a new phase of motherhood. My role is now to encourage him to TRY. Try new things, meet new people, keep trying even when it’s hard, keep opening up to new people and places even when it hurts. Keep going. Keep moving. Keep learning.
Keep on, my son. Keep on. I believe in you.
With a Hesitant, but Hopeful Heart,