by Jackie Pantaliano~Like most moms, when it comes to my child, I’m a fighter, and will venture into the wilds, alone if necessary. When you’re a people pleaser AND want to convince yourself and others that you’re a good mommy, however, it gets pretty complicated. Here’s my litmus test—-my child’s reactions. If you watch and listen really closely, your child will always show you when you’re on the right track, even if the “majority” tells you otherwise. Fighting against the tide isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best course.
The Wisdom of Children
Here’s what my very astute son who has Asperger Syndrome (affectionately referred to as an Aspie) has been telling me from early on:
“I can’t and won’t do homework. It’s too overwhelming and I’m too exhausted after school.” After years of screaming, crying and raging tantrums, we finally had his prior special needs school eliminate homework. The results? His classroom behavior and grades improved! Not to mention no more hysteria at home.
“I can’t be in the mainstream science class in elementary school (even though I‘m really good in science).” Steven was in there with an aide, but spent most of his time under the desk or in other unproductive ways, because he was overwhelmed by the number of students, sensory overload and the pace. I insisted the school pull him out of there and teach him science in the self-contained classroom. They disagreed, but I prevailed. The result: calm all around and greater productivity for Steven and his fellow classmates
“I can’t drive because it wouldn’t be safe, due to my processing delays and focusing problems.” I attended a special needs workshop on the decision to drive, and after working through the checklist, which included many other aspects my son hasn’t mastered, determined that my son knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I’m too overwhelmed to put all this laundry away.” Yelling, threatening and disbelieving him didn’t work. What did? Giving him a way to break up the task with step-by-step instructions, so it was no longer overwhelming
Steven is still in high school, until age 21 (one more year), as anyone with special needs can legally remain. Although he’s naturally bright and has long since met all of his graduation requirements, he has developmental delays in behavior, emotions and maturity. He’s primarily receiving job coaching and training in his final two years of school, and is considered a post-graduate student.
Steven is happy and feels he’s exactly where he belongs. Litmus test 1–Check. Here’s another litmus test. My child is not depressed, stressed or anxious and has strong self-esteem. He will gladly explain to anyone about his Asperger Syndrome, and the challenges and strengths that come along with it. Check 2 on the Litmus test. This is significant, as I sadly know of too many Aspies who are deeply depressed (some suicidal) struggling with their identity and fitting into the mainstream. Before diagnosis and acceptance my son expressed similar despair.
Today, Steven is looking forward to his graduation and going directly to work, preferably in baking, combined with sales/customer service, in which he excels. I also don’t doubt that he can one day write a creative story or succeed in other interest areas. In the meantime, he’s benefitting from extra time. Given dismal statistics about the number of Aspies who are able to remain gainfully employed, due to their social communication challenges and delays, regardless of their IQ and educational level, I’m pleased that Steven is getting all the help he needs in this regard.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Every child is truly unique, and this is no less true when you have a special needs child. I’m weary of having to respond to people who think I’m holding my child back, because other bright Aspies are going to college and driving. Not everyone is a driver, nor is everyone college material, and not doing either does not make you a failure
So my message to all of those who insinuate that my son should/could do “more,” because he’s so charming and verbal and smart, I say, we are not creating limitations. On the contrary, we are following his lead and allowing him to be who he is and loving him all the more for it. We are giving him all the supports he needs to get where he wants to go. While we encourage him always to stretch beyond his comfort zone, we understand his challenges and will not push him to the breaking point, just so we can check off society’s list of “shoulds.” Steven is fabulously unique and will arrive at his happy destination in the time and manner that is right for him.