Let me start this post by saying that this is not a post about viewing the world through an autistic lens. I try to be very real and raw and honest but the last thing I want to do is try to portray something that I have no idea how to accept as reality. This is about what I have learned through my neurotypical-filtered brain. Some of these things I will tell you may or may not have a direct correlation to my son’s autism. What I do know is that he has some amazing characteristics that I wish I possessed. Before I get to that, let me paint you a picture of some of the struggles my son faces each day.
First a little background on obsessions. Darn you basil ganglia! Did you know that OCD is a biological disorder? Because I need you to know this. This (and most) mental disorder is not something that you snap out of. You can’t tell someone with obsessive, intrusive, ruminating thoughts to simply, “stop thinking about that.” If only it were that easy. It is an actual disturbance in the pathways of your brain. Pretend someone puts you in one of those revolving doors. I seriously hate those things. (It takes me back to elementary P.E. class where you do this awkward rocking motion to pick your perfect time to jump into the swinging jumprope.) Now pretend someone has played a cruel joke and closed all the openings to get out. You begin to panic because….hello, you’re in a hamster wheel. Now imagine a loud speaker shouting at you to exit. My claustrophobia is causing some serious heart palpitations right now (have I mentioned I have my own issues?). This is kinda how those with OCD are forced to operate. Trust me, they would love to stop the insanity.
My son tends to ruminate on certain subjects, as many with autism do. He can tell you anything you want to know about superheroes, MMA fighters, and Minecraft. After a particularly long day (literally this can be ALL day) of hearing all things superheroes, I sarcastically asked when the first Batman was made. I was referring to the one with Michael Keaton although I have no idea the year. He didn’t skip a beat while answering, “1966 starring Adam West.” Wait, huh?? I had to look that one up. This caused a rapid fire session of his new party trick. I stared blankly after I asked him when the first Avenger movie was made and he responded, “Animation or real life?”
One reason that my son sticks to things he knows so well, is because he loves routine. This is his comfort zone. He doesn’t have to be faced with new input to his already haywire system. This is his safe place. But sometimes the revolving door/hamster wheel gets stuck on things that aren’t so “safe”. This is not only frightening for him but heartbreaking (and if I’m honest extremely frustrating) to watch. After playing with a caterpillar in the yard, my son went into full blown panic mode for seemingly no reason because he was afraid it somehow went into his eye, traveled to his heart, and was going to kill him. Let me preface this by saying my son most likely has a higher IQ than I do. He knows this is not rational. But at that moment, it is not only probable to him that this will occur, it is all he can think about. I would imagine this is like hitting your toe as hard as you can with a hammer and then being told to pretend it isn’t hurting and, to add to that, carry on a conversation as if your toe is not black, bleeding, and throbbing like a duck’s butt (I have no earthly idea what that means but my parents say it. Come to think of it, that might not even be the correct saying. I like it, so I’m leaving it. Let’s move on.). Some of these fears become so overwhelming that the ability to have rational thought completely leaves him. Coupled with flailing arms, screaming, lots of tears, and incessant begging just to feel safe. It is the most helpless feeling to see your child in so much distress and not be able to comfort him or help him feel secure.
Sometimes he gets in these moods (I have no idea what to call them). Let’s call them wild-eyed episodes that can last for hours. This is when he complains about his brain shaking violently. He runs, he screams, he laughs and can’t focus his eyes, almost like he is dizzy. He makes bizarre facial expressions and literally and continuously moves every muscle in his body. Just watching it is exhausting.
I tell you these things to tell you this. My son is my hero. He is the happiest boy I know. His laugh and smile are contagious. He will find a way to play, have fun, love life. He takes opportunities that I would have completely missed. He reminds me to never take myself too seriously. He plays with wild abandon and gets so lost in his pretend worlds that I almost believe he’s there. He looks at the world with wonder and amazement. He forgives and drops it, immediately. He asks far too philosophical questions that are beyond my capabilities to answer which only attest to his beautiful mind. He suffers but he doesn’t let it define him. He lives in a world he doesn’t understand but tries so hard to make it work. He loves simple pleasures like tickle fights and family meals together and can play Legos for hours and say it was the best day ever. He sees wonder in an odd shaped pinecone and splendor in a full moon. He is devastatingly aware of his battles but always remains positive and quick to remind me, “I will be able to do this one day.” His insight goes far beyond his 7 years and his soul is a thing of beauty. His unyielding belief in the power of prayer makes my heart happy. I wish I could imprint these lessons on my DNA. I wish I had his strength. His will to do better and be better. To find happiness despite circumstances or the toll they take on your mind. It’s not an easy journey. But as Dr Seuss says, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So….get on your way!” Yep, you’ll go far kid. I believe in you.