For parents of a child with high-functioning autism, the title of this post probably brought a smile, albeit a cringe-worthy one. Tirades, profanity, and broken things are usually a result of these infrequent but memorable occurrences.
Like the time my four-year-old son called our local congressman a (female dog) as he campaigned in our neighborhood. Yeah, that was cringe-worthy.
Or the time he single-handedly took out the bread aisle at BI-LO. Yep, that qualifies as cringe-worthy too.
My son is now a 13-year-old eighth grader who is not unlike most other kids his age. He has his quirks but the majority of the time everything is copacetic. All A’s and B’s, honors classes, active in sports. But that small percentage of time when things go awry causes me great concern.
Every day he deals with high functioning autism, an autism spectrum disorder, which affects his ability to read social cues and interact in a socially acceptable way with his peers.
His spot on the autism roster has landed him in the penalty box more than once. He was disciplined in the sixth grade for misbehaving, although it took nearly two weeks for the school to meet with us regarding his offense.
And then he was treated just like every other discipline problem, with no regard given to his HFA. Unfortunately, this mode of handling his behavior issues has been a trend.
I am careful not to make excuses for his behavior. If discipline is needed, I am first in line to support the school in whatever action they choose. I only wish that they would act concerned, or like they care just a tiny bit about his HFA and how it may have impacted his behavior instead of lumping him in with everyone else.
Luckily, his sixth-grade year was coming to an end when this behavior occurred, so I spent the summer looking for another school for him to attend.
During my search, I was thrilled to find an established, private Christian school that was opening a middle school. I was sold. A staff who appeared to genuinely care about him, as well as small class sizes and tuition incentives, made my decision to switch schools a no brainer.
The experiment lasted one year. A few friendly texts to a classmate over the summer, a classmate who happens to be his cousin, and I was told that the school was no longer a fit for my child. Apparently, the status of his classmate’s parents (and their displeasure over him texting their daughter) overrode the love the school had for my child.
And while I think they did take his HFA into consideration, here I was, two weeks before the start of school with very few options. Frustrated with both public and private schools and not knowing where to turn.
I did not believe that he needed to attend a specialized school to the tune of $900 per month. I thought he would do better if he was back at a public school with big scary classes (as well as big scary classmates).
After all, his academics were not of concern, as his grades were stellar. He needed help socially. So a bigger school would potentially give him a better chance of finding his group.
I made the decision to return to his previous school and, with the exception of him sitting at lunch alone every day, everything seems to be going well.
Now that he is 13 and nearly 5’10” the ramifications of his actions, as well as the actions themselves, are no longer simply embarrassing and harmless. They have the potential to carry serious consequences.
I am not a doctor and I do not pretend to know everything about high functioning autism. And it is not my goal to paint my child in a negative light or make it seem as though every day is bad. I am just speaking from the heart and from experience and I feel as though many others can relate.
As a parent, I am constantly trying to find the line between my child just being a punk teenage kid and my child dealing with high functioning autism. Without making excuses for his behavior or using his HFA as a crutch.
The even harder part of the equation is finding the most effective way to discipline him for his actions. Contrary to popular belief from my friends and family, a good old fashioned butt whooping is not always the answer. ( I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that one.)
He sometimes appears to have a blank stare on his face while we discuss his actions and why they are wrong. Even basic violations such as stealing money from my wallet for his Xbox seem to be met with indifference. He truly does not seem to understand why this is wrong. So I proceed to discipline him anyway, the best way I know how and hope that one day it will click.
My 10-year-old daughter is fully aware of how her brother is treated, so I have to be careful not to give in or compensate or she will expect the same. I also believe the special attention he receives due to his behavior frustrates her but I think she understands.
Zoloft helps to ease his anxiety and increase the calm. Keeping him well fed, as well as well rested, also helps. But sometimes the outbursts appear out of nowhere.
My anger turns to sympathy and my heart breaks as I picture my son, my sweet loving son, sitting alone during lunch at school. What am I to do?
As badly as I want to intervene I cannot and I must not. Armed with the awareness of his own social anxiety and his experience with brutal kids, he chooses to avoid any conflict and enjoy lunch by his lonesome.
But he gets up every morning, excited about his new day at school and exits the school in the afternoon with much the same attitude. So maybe me, the parent, is making a mountain out of a molehill.
But I know that he wants friends. And it does break my heart that he does not have any close friends.
He wants what every other middle school aged teenager wants; he wants to be accepted and loved. He wants friends and to be sociable. He wants to fit in. He just has difficulty determining how to get there.
His inability to read social cues (which is a vast statement) holds him back, which is why he recently began attending a social group once a week where he can learn, in a comfortable environment of like-minded kids, how to be social.
For example, texting is okay. Relentless texting is not. Or why it is not okay to use locker room talk in front of your grandmother or parade around the house in nothing but whitey tighties! These groups will hopefully help him learn the difference.
After talking with the therapist, as well as other parents, my mind eased knowing that they are dealing with many of the same issues daily. It helps to know that you are not alone.
I love my HFA child and want to give him a life full of opportunities. I do not care if he is the student body president or the quarterback of the football team. I want him to be comfortable being him and to find his niche.
Those words that spew out of his mouth on occasion (the ones that we, as adults, would not even use around our best friends) still make me chuckle inside. And shake my head. And they remind me of his inability to grasp the social norms.
But I love him anyway and I love him for who he is. And I am learning to enjoy the ride.
Photo: Getty Images