What Autism looks like in our family
By Rita Davidson
The grieving side of autism
When I discovered Andrew most likely had autism, it was a shock. There was a period of grieving, where all your hopes and expectations have to realign and adjust for more of an unknown future. Of course, this can be a real shock to your pride accepting a disabled child. In particular can be especially hard for a father. A kind of humiliation. But God works all things for our good, and even this we can see God’s plan. Though it can be really fuzzy, when your in the middle of it.
This grieving for me was most obvious for our son, Joseph, when he was diagnosed. By this time Andrew was already 10 yrs old and I had lived with his label, though unofficially, for years.
Joseph was only 6 years when he was diagnosed. He developed into a very over-active child, a real daredevil. I always suspected ADHD for him. And started picking up books on ADHD early in hopes of finding a clear way to tackle him as he got older.
He was the only child I have had, that needed stitches before he was two years. When he put his teeth through his lower lip with an full ¾” ‘hole’ that he could stick his tongue into. And he did! *shudder!
I have a video of him, at 2 years, “pretending” to step off our verandah that was about 4 feet off the ground. No one was watching but he was ‘testing’ with his foot and ‘dipping’ off the verandah. He had perfect coordination, and didn’t fall. He had tremendous strength, and coordination and had no problem taking chances at heights or whatever tickled his fancy. As time went on he became a running scare. We had to start locking our doors, as he was so curious and active, we once found him out our front door, in the middle of the road! It was then I realized his guardian angel likely was being paid overtime.
We have video’s of him at 2 and 3 years reciting the ABC’s and counting to 10. Though the older he got his language got less and less frequent. So by the time he was diagnosed at 6 years, it was a tremendous shock. I felt the most heartbroken with it as I put him to bed, I was overcome with grief and begged God for strength as I looked at his small body and considered his future.
He was diagnosed with severe autism, and non-verbal. He had words and language but it did not count for his inability to communicate. A strange, but true combination. And I would have never guessed.
When our girls left, this boy became a screaming, head-banging, crying boy for weeks and weeks. He was inconsolable, and our house has all the scars of the head-banging he did on the drywall and plaster. Much like the scars of our broken hearts during this time.
Andrew was your typical, lining-up-cars kid. He cried when it rained in the car and would hold his ears. He would scream for unknown reasons. His aggression was explosive, though he was a quiet tempered child. His drawing ability was that of an adult. He could draw in three dimensions with perfect perspective at only 5 or 6 years. We have boxes and boxes of his drawings that he produced during this time. He was consumed with drawing for about 4 years, as he drew in storyboards to explain his stories. He would sit for hours and hours all curled up on a chair drawing and we wouldn’t hear from him for hours and hours. He was a quiet kid and always tired, weak with poor coordination. But let him outside and he would screech until we pulled him inside.
His language was difficult, not that he couldn’t talk, but he avoided pronouns like; ‘He, she, me” and would speak about himself in third person. He developed no eye contact by the time he was 6, where he would avoid looking directly in the eyes of anyone talking. Though for someone not aware they wouldn’t really notice this. He would recoil from touch, and hugs were not something he enjoyed. But he would bury himself under pillows and even rugs! Toilet training was difficult for him, nearly 6 years old, that I couldn’t explain. He had an odd way of talking that would make us laugh. It was a combination of his lack of vocabulary, and trying to piece together words to describe something. It would often be such an odd combination that it would be memorable. Again, a little quirk of his, that he still has. But when you don’t ‘recognize’ autism, these things all go unnoticed.
Our oldest boy, August was 12 when he was diagnosed. Again, not something I was prepared for and because he was older, I felt so sad for him. Having to face this as he was becoming a teen, was a real blow for him that I felt. Again, were there hints? Hmmm, when he was 7 years, he used to wash his hands so often that they became cracked. I eventually had to stop him from being allowed to wash his hands. Later it was the VCR and putting in movies. Again the solution was to not allow him to touch the VCR.
Difficulty learning was something he always had. He easily became overwhelmed with schoolwork and could never do memory work successfully. But autism was hard to believe. H was so high functioning that it was something you couldn’t really tell, even today. But, again his communication issues have worsened as he has become older. The real difficulty is a child that functions so well, but has some severe difficulties that impacts the function he does have.
What does autism look like?
As you can see, from our three boys: Each child was significantly different. Autism doesn’t have a “face” you see, there is no “typical” autism child. It can’t be stereotyped.
- What seemed to us to be a learning disability with our son August, turned out to be autism for him.
- What seemed like ADHD for our son, Joseph, turned into severe autism.
- What we discovered was autism when young for Andrew, turned into moderate Autism.
How we could have three boys with autism, only God knows. But how can three boys in the same family could have three different kinds of autism?
How about this – we have home movies of all our boys from a few years back that show them all functioning better, more language, more communication. So what happened?
That is the burning question. Our boys were never vaccinated, so no one can blame that (though I do believe it is a cause for some). But, the constant question is there.
The idea here is that autism is not static. It doesn’t remain the same, we have watched our boys regress and loose function and improve and gain function and loose it again. It is an active disability that can worsen and get better. This gives us a clue that it is metabolic in origin.
It was a dark time for our family as we adjusted to their diagnosis. A lot of prayer, grieving and research. A priest once told us a story from a Catholic doctor, that said, “any mother of an autistic child must be a saint”. I often wondered what he meant by this when we had not just one, but three. At that time I felt like I was a real failure and barely getting through each day. I surely didn’t feel like a saint, nor do I today. But, on closer look you discover the meaning behind this.
Beatitudes for families with disabilities
- Autism will teach you humility, when people look oddly at you and act afraid of your child. Or when older people will remark, “can’t you take care of that child!”
- Autism will give you patience, as you, for the 100th time, listen to them repeat the same word they said an hour ago and your brain is about ready to explode.
- Autism will teach you charity, to hug your child when it recoils from you and pushes you away.
- Autism will teach you mercy, after your patience has expired because your child has talked all day, about their latest anxiety that seems to have no answer.
- Autism will teach you love, when you have to dig down deep to find love, on a day you are tempted to dump your child at the nearest respite house.
- Autism will teach you Fortitude, as you become courageous, in your understanding of your child with disabilities.
- Autism will teach you Temperance, is it helps you to give up your own comforts, to help your child to feel safe.
- Autism will teach you counsel, as you talk your child through fears and anxiety that are far above their age.
- Autism will teach you wisdom, as you love your child despite their disability and search for answers that only God hold holds the key.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. This is the key to consoling a parents heart, as they come to understand the cross that God has laid in front of them.
May all you families with disabilities like autism, be blessed with patience, humility and great love.
©Copyright 2013 Rita Davidson All Rights Reserved.
Rita is a Catholic wife and mother of seven children. Mark is her ever patient husband. She reverted back to the faith when her oldest was making her First Communion. By then, she had completed degrees in Hairdressing and Make up artistry. She went on to receive a degree in Natural Health and another degree in Art. At age 26, Rita suffered a minor stroke. With no lasting effects, this dramatically changed her outlook on life. In 1996, Rita began ‘Little Flowers Family Apostolates’ to reach out to other families with her new found faith, by creating unique Catholic books and resources.. In 1999, she wrote the bestselling, ‘Immodesty; Satan’s Virtue’. She was editor of ‘The Catholic Health Letter’ for 7 years. She has been a homeschooling mom for 20+ years, and has written for various magazines. She is honored that families have trusted her with their questions, needs and concerns over the years. She continues to write and reach out to Catholic families with her husband, Mark and their 4 boys through http://www.LittleFlowersFamilyPress.com