Anticipating my first child was very exciting! He arrived late on a Saturday night and was very reluctant to leave my womb. Once he emerged, we were told he was healthy and now we were suddenly parents. I had big plans for him such as preschool, the best elementary school, tons of high school activities, and even a four-year college. I had mapped out in my head what I went through and expected the same for him. As with all children, things never go as planned but usually go much better than planned.
Problems with my plan arrived early when he was having trouble nursing. It could take him 30 minutes to latch on. By the time he finished nursing, I was exhausted and he was going to be hungry again in 45 minutes. My visions of a beatific mother and child bonded during feeding and smiling blissfully had been shattered. This was so much harder than I anticipated. But I did not give up and this set the groundwork for my determination as his mom.
We eventually survived nursing and it did get easier but he was not thriving. Every checkup he was underweight. Doctors were baffled. He had chronic rashes and his behaviors were erratic. We were told by the pre-school teacher with no compassion, “there is something wrong with him.” What the heck did that mean? I shrugged and took him home, glad to be done with pre-school and moving on to kindergarten. But alas, this was just the beginning of a long string of difficulties. His behavior was scaring the other kids and he had overwhelming anxiety.
I was watching my son live in his own world and I was sinking with him.
My self-esteem was dwindling and my moods were darkening. Was I just being codependent, letting his moods determine mine? Every time he was in crisis I sank too. And with the sinking came anger and frustration. I was completely unable to disconnect from him. I found myself doing everything in my power to avoid his triggers, to find the right doctors, and set up a home that reduced his anxiety. I even homeschooled him for 3 years. Things were just not going as I had dreamed.
During homeschooling, I could see his brilliance in his work but I could also see the struggle. Despite the fact that he understood material for kids much older than he was, his focus was limited. He needed to be moving, he struggled to hold a pencil, and he wanted everything perfect, to the point of self-destruction. My dreams for him were disappearing and my moods were getting lower. It was becoming increasingly clear that I needed a perspective change if I was going to survive this.
It was time that I started seeing him for him and not what I wanted him to be.
So I stopped fretting about all of the school work and I took the pressure off of both of us to perform. (I can definitely see myself in him when it comes to perfectionism.) I reframed what I had been conditioned to think was normal and embraced OUR situation as normal. We began traveling more as a family – with a few homeschool lessons thrown in. Physics lessons at Lego Land are way more fun than home! We were finding fun again. I let my worries about him being a scholar go by the wayside. I could see he was smart and I knew he had weaknesses (as we all do) but I also saw a person who needed to be appreciated for himself. He hadn’t bought into the conditioning that I had. He hadn’t bought into the classic education system or lifestyle. He had found his own. He started to recognize his own triggers, his self-care needs, and found solutions. He did research online into the subjects he loved (ancient history) and he stayed in touch with junior high school friends who understood him. They even helped him to understand social situations that baffled him. And he sometimes would be the one bringing solutions to them. To this day, he talks and games with his friends daily and I call that a success. He did graduate from high school despite all of his challenges and even aced the SAT.
In his 20th year, he was diagnosed with autism.
Finally, we had a way to explain his symptoms and delve into a deeper understanding of what made him him. But the diagnosis really didn’t matter to us. When we pivoted away from academics, we set a new goal of making a really good human. I can proudly say we accomplished just that! He has amazing people skills, great compassion, and a sense of responsibility. But most importantly he is an example foe all of us of how being true to oneself can make the best person of all.
By Rebecca Jeffreys
Rebecca Jeffreys is a mom of a 21-year-old son on the autism spectrum. Her adventure through motherhood has been bumpy, confusing, and yet filled with love! In her 21 years as a parent, she has learned how to work with non-traditional parenting techniques to help her son grow into a mature, young adult. Through this process, Rebecca has grown immensely as a human and now shares that same wish for others! Rebecca is a parenting coach for parents with kids on the spectrum. www.spoutinghealthyfamilies.