My son, Malcolm, was diagnosed with PDD-NOS when he was three. I remember learning, long before I gave motherhood even a glancing thought, that former CFL quarterback Doug Flutie had an autistic son, and wondering how he could possibly handle such a thing. Finding myself in the same position didn’t answer my question, since each autistic person is different. And yet, all parents of autistic children face the same choice: learn to raise your kid, or abdicate responsibility. The latter never crossed my mind.
I should mention that the learning goes both ways. On one hand, I began to research the current wisdom about mitigating or “curing” the symptoms of autism; on the other, Malcolm began to teach me how to grow. My efforts have had limited success, by society’s standards — Mal struggles with complete sentences unless they follow a pattern, and is often unable to respond to “how” and “why” questions. He stims by forming shapes with his hands or making high-pitched noises at sometimes inappropriate times (like in the middle of a concert, which is why I only take him to shows that are very amplified). His instruction of me, however, is effortless, and while still a work in progress, has had far greater success. In no particular order, here are five things I have learned from my autistic son:
When he was very young, Malcolm was the fastest thing on two feet, but the years (and perhaps the medications I reluctantly added to his care protocol) have slowed him considerably. While he can do a large number of self-care tasks by himself, he rarely seems to see the urgency behind them unless I prompt him. If left on his own, he will do what he needs to do, but on a schedule that has no correlation to my often harried pace, and if I push him too hard, he resists. The thing is, the need to deal with him gently is good for me. I can’t say I’m always calm, but my urging him to do a good job because I know he can seems like a better parenting strategy than yelling that he’s going to be late. Either way, I get better results with honey than vinegar, and have found that the discipline I’ve learned in being forced to adopt this strategy carries over into the way I deal with other people. Most of the time, anyway.