For years, we knew that our son, now 11, was different. Some days he would be happy, and seemingly typically developing. Other days, he would be withdrawn, socially awkward, and raging against the world. After many evaluations and consultations with mental health professionals, we finally arrived at a conclusive diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder. As an educator, I didn’t buy into the diagnosis at first, because his autistic-like symptoms were not pervasive. In school (where he excels) and on the baseball field (where he plays at a very competitive level), he always appeared “normal.” He was never bothered by crowds or noise in public spaces like stadiums or malls. However, once he was home, he unleashed his litany of discomfort and angst against all he believed to be wrong in the world, and never managed to regulate his emotion. He asks “why?” about things the rest of us easily comprehend. “Why would you give money to charity? Why are you having your friends over for a party? Why…?” He is case in point that there is a spectrum of autistic behaviors and functioning.
In addition to seeking therapy and medicinal intervention to help him find comfort in this world, my husband and I each sought our own therapy. It wasn’t until then when we discovered how we can best help him. Instead of always reacting to his missives or trying desperately to get him to understand social conventions, altruism, and basic manners, we took a new approach. We learned to validate his feelings and concerns. This seems to bring him peace, knowing he is understood.
My best advice is to be patient, read all you can to help understand the workings of an autistic brain (my favorites are “Look Me in the Eye” by John Elder Robison, and “The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida), and, as Naoki pleads, never give up on them! Do something for yourself, so you have the strength and patience to lovingly parent your child with autism. For me, yoga–both practicing and teaching–is my therapy. I’ve learned how to let go of the notion of controlling my son, attempting to change him. I’ve learned to simply see all that is beautiful and inspiring in him, and find gratitude in his presence in our lives.