Rain Man Thirty Years Later

I have had several people reference the movie Rain Man since my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I remember, “One minute ’till Wapner” and counting the toothpicks but I actually remember nothing else about the movie. It came out in 1988…I was 7. I can’t imagine my parents letting me watch an R rated movie at age 7 so I’m not completely sure I had seen it, in it’s entirety.  The stars must have been aligned just right and God must have felt sorry for me today because my kids were watching their iPads quietly, without fighting, or screaming, or demanding something of me.  I even bribed them by building a cool fort (separate ones, of course, because I’m not stupid) all in the ruse that I am a cool mom. In reality, I wanted to try and grab my phone and watch the movie. If a fort and an iPad as a babysitter make me wrong, I’m #sorrynotsorry. And let me tell you, the movie gave me all the feels. Let me explain…

Of course every single person on the autism spectrum (ASD) is completely different. That being said, Dustin Hoffman did an amazing job. The writers did their homework for the part of the autistic man, and for the part of the people he interacted with and how they treated him.  Ray stopping in the middle of the street because he noticed the “Don’t Walk” sign despite traffic blaring horns to get him to move speaks to the literal, concrete nature of people with ASD. The need for rituals and the inability to change routines is well portrayed. My heart broke when Tom Cruise’s character says, “You know what I think, Ray? I think autism is a bunch of sh*t. You can’t tell me you’re not in there somewhere.”

This. This is how I feel on the days that I don’t understand my son’s irrational fears. This is how I feel on the days that he can’t focus and his brain is out of control. I know he’s in there. It’s not his fault there is a disconnect in his brain that makes things seem different.  Like Charlie told the nurse, “He lives in a world of his own.”

It’s been 30 years since the movie came out and I’m not sure that much has changed. The “profound” (sarcasm font) advice from the Dr in the movie was; “His brain works different. What he does isn’t intended to be annoying. If he’s getting on your nerves, take a break.”  But what about the caregivers that can’t. What about when there is no break in sight. I think trying to understand and offer individualized coping skills would be a much better care plan.  The Dr followed up with, “Most autistics can’t speak or communicate.” That has to be the racial equivalent to, “Some of my best friends are black.”  OY VEY

One of the main takeaways from this movie has been that people with autism have cool party tricks. The can memorize phone books and count 6 decks worth of cards to win over 80 grand at a casino. Here’s the deal; every person on the spectrum is different and they aren’t all show ponies. My son does, admittedly have some very cool abilities because his brain is wired differently. But my husband is a walking encyclopedia of random knowledge and can play a mean guitar but is 100% neurotypical. He also has beautiful blue eyes but that is neither here nor there;)

Here is what I absolutely loved about the movie. Charlie (reluctantly) learned the importance of Ray’s routine and worked that out accordingly. He knew that he had meltdowns and didn’t always know how to reciprocate feelings. But guess what? He fell in love with him anyway. Just the way he was.  He tried to change him and realized that his efforts were completely in vain. He realized that Ray’s frustration was even greater than his own. He realized that he was worth it. He was the best big brother just the way he was. We could all learn from Tom Cruise (in this movie only bc he is super cray in real life).  Different not less.

 

My Atypical Son

IMG_7619Social media is fake. I truly hope this is not an epiphany for any of you.  I don’t think we intend for it to be that way, but let’s be honest. I try to only post pictures that I have one chin. You won’t see pics of my ample backside or on the days my adult acne can rival that of a 15 year old. I try to be real and transparent, but I’m still human.  We only put out there what we choose for the world to see. I’m all for it!! I don’t want to read about your husband’s affair or your daughter’s jailed boyfriend (as entertaining as a front row seat to the drama may be). But this altered reality can also skew how we see life.

I tend to think everyone has it together, except of course, me. Everyone makes their children super nutritious, organic meals and they never yell. Parents spend hours with their children playing minecraft or playing legos and never complain. Faces and marriages and childrens’ behaviors are always perfect. My feelings of inadequacy, especially as a parent, can hang on me like a hair in a biscuit. It’s a thing…have you ever seen a hair cooked into a biscuit??

Sometimes (most of the time) I feel like surely everyone else has this parenting thing in the bag and I am left paying for the therapy bills for the kids I have screwed up. In these situations, what you really need is someone to say, “I see you. I’ve been there. I know what you’re going through.” You need someone to say, “Me too.”

This is how I feel as I am watching the new Netflix series Atypical.  Let’s start with a disclaimer. My son is not exactly like Sam, from the show. But both having ASD, they are more similar than not. People with ASD usually have a particular fascination with something. Sam’s is arctic penguins or something like that. It’s hard to hear the whole dialogue through my sobs. My little has a slightly cooler fascination which is music. He is completely obsessed. It’s like his body has to play an instrument or he will simply die. I’m known to be dramatic but this is legit. As I watch Sam navigate the dating world with all of the misguided (at best) and profoundly ridiculous (at worst) advice that he receives from his peers, I vow to never stop homeschooling him for the duration of exactly forever. As I watch the heartache and ridicule he goes through, my shoulders heave and the ugly cry is unstoppable. As if my poor child has not already endured enough.

I know my little is only 8. But I have literally prayed for his wife since he was in the womb. I prayed that she would love him and accept him for who he is and appreciate his talents. That was before I knew he had autism and before I even knew what his talents were. Before I knew that he had the most precious curly hair or that his entire face lights up when he is laughs. Before I knew that his brain worked differently and his talents would far exceed my own.

I have heard it said that I can’t shield him from the world forever. Hear me when I say that is and never will be my intention. But I would like him to go into the world on the same playing field. With the same skills and coping mechanisms that others are equipped with. That only seems fair.

My sadness with ASD lies here…Will he ever be on the same playing field?

I think the mother on the show was written after my life. Well, take out the adultery thing but let’s not split hairs. She has arranged her entire life to make her son’s life as normal as possible. Always trying to prevent that next meltdown or heartache or disappointment. She becomes neurotic and slightly crazy.  Most importantly, she has lost herself. She is an autism mom. She has thrown her life into that role and all others fall below. I would be willing to bet this is the story for most moms (or dads) of kids with special needs.

We all want our children to succeed. We all want to send them into this world with all the tools they need to be productive little humans that aren’t a drain on society. I want to raise my children to be leaders, to love others above themselves, and most importantly, to put God first in all they do. Some days I wonder if I’m even making a dent.

Is it fair to pray for his wife when I am unsure that his anxiety will ever allow him to live alone, or drive a car, or (for the love of humanity and all things good) to even sleep in his own bed?  It’s daunting, if I’m being honest.

But let me tell you about the flip side to that coin. My little fuzzy headed, perfect boy has taught me the importance of celebrating victories, no matter how small. He has taught me the importance of unconditional love. I know the importance of not worrying about tomorrow, although I continue to struggle. I know that God has a plan. His kisses and hugs and snuggles are even more precious because I don’t get them often.  He has taught me that I am strong. I can endure far more than I thought I could. He has taught me that my struggles seem minuscule in comparison to his own. And he has taught me to never put a limit on progress.

I may never be able to tell my son that I understand how he sees the world. I may never be able to give him that, “me too”. But I can promise him that I will be beside him through it all.