Moving From Red Alert to Green Light.
In the last few years I have changed how I view my sons autism. For many years I focused on getting him to fit in with other people, completing his studies so he could go to college, and pushing him to find work and start earning money. I always felt like I had to push, to keep bringing up these topics to remind him of what I thought he needed to do.
My change began in the summer of 2015. Due to challenges with the business I work in, our finances were tight so I was watching our expenses, including our electric bill. The summer was hot and I was trying to do without the air conditioning in order to keep our costs lower. Unfortunately, the heat caused problems with my sleep and his. I was over tired, worried about our money so I would get frustrated. I would get angry at my son’s behavior. He was also frustrated and angry, which made for an unpleasant household. To add to the mix, my husband and I were also pushing him to study for the GED.
He was staying up late and sleeping late to try to stay cool without the air conditioning. Since he was overtired and hot from the weather, this led to a lot of stimming, and the noise bothered me because I wasn’t sleeping well. I was having arguments with him on a regular basis. All of this tension came to a head one night when he was up late, making a lot of noise and keeping me awake. At two in the morning I got out of bed, and yelled at him to quiet down. He yelled back and for the first time pushed me back, out of his way.
I was stunned and lay on the floor as he ran downstairs and out of the house. I broke down in tears, stunned at what had happened while my anger evaporated. As I wept, I felt like a horrible mother, driving my son away, and worried about bothering the neighbors. I went outside, still crying, trying to figure out where he was. I knew he was close by, I could hear a neighbor’s dog barking but I couldn’t see him. After several minutes, that seemed like hours, I could see him walking back up the driveway. I walked down to meet him and my tears started again when he put his arms around me and murmured words of comfort to me. At that moment, I knew things needed to change and I needed to do the changing.
Over the next few weeks, I quit making demands of my son and started listening to him as he told me about topics he was interested in. I also talked to my husband and he agreed to take a break on tutoring him for the GED. At that time my son was interested in cars and he found a YouTube channel of car videos. In the videos, the narrator gave a tour of a car, showing all of the features and selling points. Since we have an old car we would like to replace, he was learning what he could of other models. After the 20th video, I was bored but I paid attention because I wanted to connect with my son instead of fight with him. He was still stimming and still up late at night, but he did start to get quieter, which helped me to sleep. I also started running the air conditioner more, the money seemed less important than the stress in our house.
We watched movies together that my son liked. We both like science fiction and fantasy and watched one of the series of Batman movies. I knew that he was interested in Route 66 so my husband and I planned for a vacation to drive along part of that old highway. My mom offered to help pay for part of the trip so in spite of our money worries, I started planning the trip that summer. Normally he would’ve been eager to help plan it out but this time he didn’t respond when I asked him for help. I backed off and continued listening, watching movies and TV and being with him without making demands.
After several months, when he knew we were going on the trip, he started responding when I asked for help on planning the trip. My mom, his Nana was going to travel with us, so this was another reason he started to help with the planning. During the trip, I consulted with him on the best routes and he relaxed and offered advice on routes to take. He also likes to take pictures, so I would stop and let him capture the exits or Route 66 logo engraved in parts of the road. He told us the history of the road, when it was built, the official speed limits and where the exits would go. I let him decide on our stops and we had a nice side trip in Arizona based on his directions. The trip was pleasant and relaxing for all of us, including son’s Nana who traveled with us.
When we returned home, I continued listen to him, and spend time with him. We watched the Star Trek series and did other things in the evenings. As I continued my changes, he also changed. The stress lines on his face have faded, and he looks younger than he did in the summer of 2015.He appears to be more confident and comfortable with himself. There are times when he gets upset with changes in our routine but he does not get as angry and he calms down sooner than he used to.
I don’t have answers on what his future will be like. It won’t be the future I envisioned, where he goes to college, finds someone to settle down with and makes a home of his own somewhere. With the changes for him and myself in the last two years, I think that he will gradually find a way to make his own future and be comfortable with himself. In the meantime, I will continue to listen and find ways to help that fit who he is and not who I think he should be.
Photos by J.T. Harpster