Susan Senator writes for The Washington Post about how her 22-year-old son autistic son Nat is showing a maturing interest in communication-- through Facebook:
“Hey, Nat,” I said, “you want to type on my Facebook page here?” To my surprise, he answered yes. I had no idea what to expect and sat back while Nat’s finger hovered over the keyboard, his thoughts slowly coalescing into words. He’d finally shout one out and I’d say, “Okay, type that!” Then he’d sound it out, using the invented spelling of kindergartners — but this was anything but babyish.
Seeing Nat’s words on the screen felt miraculous. One of the first things he typed was — not surprisingly — “look at pikerts” (look at pictures). I posted a note on my Facebook wall that Nat was typing. Moments later, responses began pouring in. It seemed like all my Facebook friends wanted to talk to Nat. I asked Nat if he wanted to say something back. He typed some responses, “hi” and “how you.” I wanted to shout, jump and kiss him all at once but I stopped myself. I had waited many years for communication like this, but my son is also a 22-year-old man. I encouraged him, but quietly, the way he needs it to be.
Susan Senator, whose son Nat is beginning life as an adult, looks back a few years and tells parents of young autistic children who feel like they do not want to leave the house that it gets better:
You won’t always feel like this. Oh, I know you are not me, but in a way, you are. If you’re an autism parent, you probably know what I mean. (And before anyone screams and accuses me of blaming autism, just stop it. I’m not blaming our children, or autistics; but I am saying that parenting, especially with this particular disorder in the mix – is tough to handle in one way or another and there’s no getting around that. It’s hard, that’s the truth. For our children and for us. There is so much unpredictability with autism in their lives, and thus there is so much unpredictability in our lives, when they’re young especially, so much worry. What might he do? Will he be unhappy there? Angry? Overstimulated? Will others understand? Will they stare? It’s very, very hard and we love them and those two facts exist side-by-side.) How will he be when he’s older? Should I be doing more to help him? Sweat, sweat, sweat. So much effort and stress. I just wanted to go to bed. Or at least just stay in my house, eat, and watch TV.
Sometimes it’s easier just to stay indoors. So do it, if you have to. I’ll tell you what: stay inside, but when you feel stronger, go out. It doesn’t last forever, you eventually figure it out. Just like them. Because here’s the thing no one is really talking about it — our guys, especially our guys, seem to blossom as they get older. Not only is Nat’s adult life not a dead end, it is a beautiful beginning. And I am giving you this sugar (coat)-free.
It's not a window. It's a peak.
Susan Senator puts on Autism Mommy Swami's turban and offers some wisdom, not only about the tough and important topic of potty training, but about what autism itself actually is:
It’s hard for me to believe that any of us get toilet trained! But here’s the thing: developmental disorder/delay means developmental delay! AKA some things will take longer!!!! So can’t we wait until a child is developmentally more ready? I don’t think enough can be said about developmental readiness, of late blooming, of late intervention. Everyone does early intervention, and that’s great, but if it doesn’t take at that point, then what? People still think there’s a tiny window of brain elasticity until 5, or 10, or whatever, and let me tell you, that just ain’t true. Our guys are often late bloomers. Yet the schools and daycares insist that they be potty trained by a certain age. Whatever happened to accommodations? And by the way, didn’t Freud tell us way back when not to be too hyper about potty training?
A mother wants to help her 10-year-old move beyond ABA and find more activities and recreational skills. Autism Swami Mommy (AKA Susan Senator) explains how she worked toward the same goals with her own son:
The idea was to take his natural activities and stretch them outward to other activities. Watch him and then think what I could add on, rather than think in terms of lists of stuff I want him to do and know.
This meant that I had to ask him what he likes in a different way from my usual front-and-center demands. I had to watch him almost peripherally, to see what it was that he gravitated towards, what he did frequently when demands were not in the picture. This way I could go from something he liked to do naturally and expand it into something that uses that as a base but adds in more. If he walked back-and-forth a lot as his preferred activity, I had to think without judgement, “What else can he do while walking back-and-forth?” Lawn-mowing, vacuuming came to mind. Lawn-mowing with a rotary blade, an old dull push mower (no motor) is a safe way to have him work purposefully outdoors and walk a lot. Pick up one at Home Depot or even at a yard sale. He can mow any which way, and you can just clean it up afterwards. Even if you have a tractor mower, leave a patch uncut for him. Walk with him at first to make sure he can handle it safely and phase yourself out, of course. This was what I did.
Two beautiful posts from Susan Senator
1. Her autistic son Nat just moved into his new home, and she posts her letter to him:
Nat, you are such a mensch. You always do what you can. You try so hard. You figure things out and you ask when you don’t know. I hope you remember that. There’s always someone whom you can ask, someone who cares.
You lived somewhere else before: Adams Drive. It was hard for me to get used to you being there, and so we brought you home every weekend. But that was during school. You were younger then. Now you are 22, a full grown man, and you are in a home that you got to choose. At least, you chose which room was yours. And you chose your colors: dark blue and aqua. You have a new dresser, and we unpacked and filled it up quickly: underwear and socks at the very top; pants at the very bottom.
2. And a story called Patronizing, Judging, and Being Dead Wrong about how difficult it can be to move beyond pity when talking with disabled people.
My congratulations to Nat on his new home, to Carol on her social success, and to Susan on her wisdom and generosity.