Short Stories: Living with Autism – A Mother’s Perspective

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 autism - son and mom

The following short story has been submitted by Lynne Collier, who is a Life Coach and owner of LIFeSCAPES Coaching. She is also a writer with The White Rose Writers and mother of three grown children. Her youngest, Benjamin, is on the Autism Spectrum and is the author of the short story The Crossing from last week. You can email Lynne at: lynne@lifescapes-coaching.com or lynnecollier@thewhiterosewriters.com. You can also follow Benjamin on his blog: benjaminfrog.wordpress.com. To learn more about Benjamin and Lynne, visit the website at: thewhiterosewriters.com.

 

 The Crossing – Part 2 – A Mother’s Perspective

She knew their walk to school was always an adventure for her young boy. They would set off from home and stroll along the sidewalk to the road. It was just the two of them and his four imaginary friends: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. He never went anywhere without them. They kept him company in a world where she couldn’t go; not yet anyway. They were his companions when no one else wanted to play with him.

At first, he took them in to Kindergarten with him, but his teacher had become annoyed on several occasions at his lack of attention in class. So now they stopped at the playground on the way to school where he had to say “goodbye” to his imaginary friends. Sometimes he looked so sad. He asked his mother if they would be alright until he got them after school. They were as real to him as if they were his classmates; maybe more so. They didn’t laugh at him or call him names.

He ran free for a while at the playground. She had come to realize that he needed a lot of freedom from the world he didn’t understand. He needed extra time to just be. She watched him lovingly as he mumbled words she couldn’t comprehend, his arms flailing and his voice getting louder with shouts and screams for no apparent reason. He was so happy just to run without being confined to rooms and paths and the never-ending rules she had to constantly teach him. Her baby was happy. She loved to watch him play in his world.

He had learned, finally, to stop at the end of the path and wait for her. They had made an agreement that if he stopped all by himself he wouldn’t have to hold her hand anymore. He rarely wanted any physical contact. She missed the sweet baby boy she could hold tight and hug all day. It sometimes made her sad that she couldn’t show him all the affection she wanted, but she understood it was just his way. He didn’t seem to want hugs at all, but he would let her kiss him goodnight, and he held her hand if there were cars close by; only if there were cars.

They were nearing the crossing guard when he suddenly darted across the road! She screamed his name in panic as approaching cars barely managed to stop in time. One car came to a screeching halt and she saw the look of horror on the driver’s face. Everyone, the drivers, the crossing guard, the other parents, even the other children, all scowled and shouted at her son. They told him he was a bad boy and he needed to behave better. She ran to the middle of the road and grabbed his hand, heart pounding with fear.

As they finished walking across the road, the crossing guard blew her whistle and held up her sign. The other parents started to cross too. Their whispers were intentionally loud enough for her to hear. “Terrible mother!”, “Should be ashamed of herself!”, “Not enough discipline obviously!” were all ringing in her ears as she held tight to his tiny hand and got him safely across the road and away from the other parents and children. Her face burned as she chose to ignore their hurtful words. This wasn’t the first time she had heard such words or experienced such quick judgement.

She felt like shouting at them all, “He has autism! That’s why he sometimes behaves like he does!” But she had tried her best not to let her son see her get angry with other people. She didn’t want him to think that’s the way people should deal with disagreements. So she took a deep breath and asked him quietly why he had run across the road instead of waiting for the crossing guard to tell them it was safe.

He explained, in his simple, broken words, that he had looked to make sure the cars were far away and he knew they could stop before they got to the crossing. He asked her why the cars wouldn’t stop for him if he wanted to cross the road. Why couldn’t he make the cars stop if he was right? Why did they only stop for the crossing guard?

She frowned a little at first, then her eyes lit up and she smiled at him.

“Because she has the STOP sign”, she said, “and you don’t”.

He looked at her, puzzled. She was used to that look all too well. Then a faint grin came across his little face, a rarity for him. She loved to see him smile. Off he ran into the playing field, alone, or maybe not. Maybe he had some other imaginary friends he left at school until the next day. Either way, he was free again, happy in his own world for a few minutes, until he had to join the other children in this world again and deal with another rule that made no sense to him at all.

——

Parenting a child with autism brings many challenges as typical parenting strategies don’t work.  Parents are often left feeling inadequate or like failures.  Facing the constant judgements of others who don’t understand can be very discouraging, and they are often exhausted from the higher level of care needed by many of these kids.   Parents can also struggle with feelings of guilt when they see their kids struggling, and in many instances, experience intense feelings of grief and sadness for the pain they know their kids will suffer for being different. 

Often, families will try to cope on their own and compensate for their child’s fears and behavioural quirks.  While this can work in the short-term, their children are left ill prepared for the future when they become adults.  Connecting with other families of ASD children is vital, as is accessing the many supports available through local, national and international organizations (as previously highlighted in last week’s post.)

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