Friday, June 3, 2011

Raising a child who is..."different"

So, as I am sure everyone knows- I have an autistic child. He was diagnosed at age 3.5 and at the time was almost completely non-verbal. He is now VERY verbal- but still has a developmental delay- also diagnosed at 3.5- of about 1-1.5 years. So my beautiful 8 year old child has the mannerisms of a 6.5 year old.

 He has difficulty socializing- though he tries very hard- it is apparent to others that he is well..different.  Most times I can explain a behavior to another child or adult and it helps smooth things out making for a better social interaction. I try to refrain from doing that all of the time as I don't want his autism to be looked at as a handicap, or have people avoid him because they don't know how to interact with him.

 I have recently begun coaching pee-wee cheerleaders, and my daughter is also cheering.  We are at the practice field 5 days a week 2.5 hours a day. Noah likes to run off to play at the playground- where other boys are playing. His method of introduction is unorthodox at best- usually introducing himself by his full name- followed by a line from a  movie or TV show. He is also very susceptible to being told to do the wrong thing- in the name of friendship- i.e. We will be your friends if you....

 The last few days of practice have been rough- the boys that he is playing with are being increasingly mean- they are ganging up on him, and have twice had him on the ground hitting him. I have immediately stepped in and yelled at said kids- who are little smart ass punks who run away or blame Noah for their behavior. My kid is autistic, but he is no angel. But no child ever deserves to be ganged up on like what I have witnessed.
 I have been attempting to search out the parents of the little monsters- finally pinning one mom down. (who also happens to have a cheerleader on my squad)  She laughed off what I told her about her son and said that Noah was saying all sorts of things to antagonize them- and her son knew that "he(Noah) wasn't right"  I asked her if she would let me explain to her son about Noah's autism (and believe me I know how to explain so it can be understood by a child) and she said she already told him to just ignore Noah- that he "wasn't right" and couldn't help himself. I said that wasn't helpful- it wasn't explaining the reason- and if Noah was purposefully antagonizing then it was a behavior issue that I would deal with. Noah can help himself- but if he is upset and overwhelmed- that is when his filter completely disappears and he needs to be removed from the situation to compose himself. But if he is being chased, knocked down and hit- that was completely unacceptable and these children need to know that they cannot do those things to another child.   It would be just as unacceptable for any child as it is for my child with Autism- who-if told it was a game he needed to play- he would do it as he takes EVERYTHING at face value.  This mom looked right through me- doubtfully even listening to anything I said and said she would talk with her son. Then with a cheery goodbye turned and walked away.

These are the kinds of things that terrify me. My son is "different" and the differences are glaringly apparent when he is in a group of his neurotypical peers. Physically he is 8-- but he still likes Blues Clues and Imagination Movers- but he also likes Star Wars, superheros and Harry Potter. To look at him- he LOOKS like any other 8 year old. Watching him from a distance- he LOOKS like any other 8 year old. Once you interact with him- then it becomes apparent that he is "different". I am proud of his differences- they make him who he is, make him unique- but kids are cruel and without positive modeling and being taught tolerance and acceptance from adults in their lives they walk the fine line between being accepting people and bullies. I try to be positive- my goal is to teach, to help people understand- and it is a never ending battle.