Friday, June 3, 2011 have autism.

I have a confession to make. My son was diagnosed with Autism at 3.5 years old. He is now 8 years old and I have yet to tell him about his "condition". We told his brother and sister right away. It gave them a sense of understanding that he was different.  Now they had a reason why he was as he was. The word Autism itself helped them adjust to who he had always been and who he would become.
  He sees a neurologist, which we just call going to the doctor, he takes meds for extreme ADHD and meds to sleep at night. He is in an autistic class and has been since mid kindergarten. His dad says that he knows he's different. That very may well be, but I have never put a name to it- not for him anyway. And dammit- I want to be able to tell him he's not so different- even though his diagnosis means he IS!  

I don't even know where I would begin- what is appropriate to say and not to say and how much could he understand anyway? He is only 8 years old after all. I don't want to make him feel self conscious about some of his behaviors, but I also want him to embrace the things that make him shine- without feeling like it's negative, or not looked upon favorably by "normal" people.

I watch the show Parenthood- fantastic show- amazing writing- and a very well done take on a family dealing with Asperger's Syndrome. Now my son is diagnosed High Functioning Autism (HFA) which only differs from Aspergers in that he did not have normal speech development.  They are dealing with telling their son about his Aspergers.  Very emotional show for me, as I can see what fictional characters do, and I can comment on what I thought they were doing right/wrong. And it really got my mind working- how will I tell my son? When will I tell my son? How will he react? Will I cry? Will my husband cry? There are so many questions I just want to put it on the shelf for now and wait it out.

I then come to another bump in the road-  the school he is in has autistic classes. The students in the entire school are aware and very accepting of the autistic students. Our goal is to have him return to school where we live next year. The student population here is not taught to be as accepting. I am worried that some of the teachers might not be either.  So now I really have to think about talking to him so he is prepared for what he might experience. 

He is a bright kid- I do agree with my husband that he knows he is "different"  than other kids his age. I also know he is his own worst critic (aren't we all!) but the Autism seems to amplify those feelings of inadequacy and fear of failing  to the point of near meltdown. This is one of the biggest negative things to have to deal with. If you have ever witnessed a full blown autistic meltdown then you know what I am saying.  If you haven't...well...I really can't describe it for you. Think a "normal" child's tantrum and then multiply that by 1000.

I am not ashamed of my son's autism- but I can say I wish he wasn't autistic. The diagnosis of autism is traumatizing for a parent- and when I do end up telling him I want to AVOID traumatizing him. But I need to be able to be objective and I don't see how I can- this is MY kid.  I want him to know all the strengths he has- being able to name nearly every dinosaur and tell me what period they lived in.  Knowing all gazillion Pokemon and their respective powers. These are amazing memory skills that not everyone possesses.  But then there is the flip-side of the diagnosis. There are negatives- and while I don't want to dwell on them he still needs to know. The  meltdowns, inability to focus and get school work done,  trouble with organization, and  inability to block out noise.  His lack of social skills in starting and maintaining and then ending a conversation. These unfortunately are the darkness to the light and completely unavoidable.

The day is fast approaching when the conversation will have to be had, I have a lot of food for thought- books to look into as well as parents of other kids on the spectrum to help guide me through.  My biggest goal- to make sure he knows that yes, he is different- but he was made that way for a reason- and to accept and embrace his differences will make it easier on others around him to accept and embrace his differences as well.