Embarrassment is Growth?

Yesterday was a rough day. Big failed to turn in a homework assignment and had to sit at the “homework” table during lunch. The way this table works is the kids that file through the cafeteria at lunch see their names on the table and know they have to sit there and finish whatever missing assignments they have instead of sitting with friends and having recess. I don’t want to discuss the pros and cons of homework and the table at all; I don’t want to discuss taking away a kids’ recess or punishing for things that may or may not be out of his control. I don’t want to discuss his IEP and what should be added to prevent future incidences. Maybe I do, but not today.

Big doesn’t go into the cafeteria daily; he heads out to the patio to eat with a group of friends. Yes, you read that right. Friends! He didn’t see his name on the homework table list, so someone had to come out and get him. You can imagine how well that went. I don’t have to; I have spies everywhere. He had a major meltdown. Major. He has been on a really good streak this semester and has shown huge growth in his ability to deal and cope in a more age appropriate manner. Notice, here, I say more age appropriate. He’s still a kid on the spectrum, after all. He was a.) in the cafeteria 2.) missing his recess 3.) didn’t understand what assignment was missing f.) thought he was going to miss a weeks worth of recess, and finally he was “totally humiliated, mom.”

Let that sink in. My autistic child felt humiliation. Initially, I was frustrated, frazzled and fangry. Who in the world wants their kid to feel humiliated? No one, right? But, just now, I was on the phone with my mother-in-law debriefing her on the week since she last saw the boys (Sunday); I was telling her about Big’s day yesterday and I had what Oprah likes to call an a-ha! moment!  This is huge! This is growth! This is what we work so hard for. Stick with me; I see your confused looks. No, I don’t want my kid to feel embarrassed and humiliated. But he did. He felt it. Do you see what this means? The years of talking about how we make other people feel, the years of reminding him to think about the people around him in the moment and their experience in the world, and countless conversations about how we look to others…that talking, the work it’s working. As little as a year ago, he would have had a meltdown about missing recess and all the other reasons he listed, but he wouldn’t have felt embarrassed in the least. He wouldn’t have cared what other people thought of him. Yesterday, he cared. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want my fabulous boy walking through this life thinking solely about what people think of him. I want him to take that with a grain of salt, which I totally think he’ll get to the middle ground one day.

Yesterday, he felt.  Truly, felt.  Today, I see growth.



Changing My Ways (of Thinking)

I think I’ve told you. We take a mindfulness and yoga class for kids on the spectrum and their families on Thursday nights. It’s this really cool thing we are doing with one of my favorite people in this world. Part of this process is me seeing what is and isn’t working in our daily lives.

A few weeks ago, I had a few moments with my friend where we were able to talk and sort and work things out; what’s that old saying?  “Two heads are better than one.” I had a realization, an “A-ha!” moment if you will. I often say things like “Big can’t” or “Big won’t” or “Big can’t be expected to…” (fill in the blank with some area that’s a challenge for Big.”  Well, I say “No. More.” No more limiting Big because of things that are hard or make him uncomfortable or make parenting him more work. No. More.

One of my most common “Big Can’t” phrases was “Big can’t go without his iPod.” As if some sort of cruel twist of fate, we had to ground the WeeOne from all electronics for two weeks.  It didn’t really seem fair to let Big spend those precious mind numbing moments in front of youtube and tell WeeOne “no soup for you!” So, we limited iPod to 15 minutes when Big got home from school to decompress. You would be amazed at what happened.  My kids remembered they are kids.  The remembered how to play with toys, create with clay, paint, tell stories, be engaged. Oh, the engagement. At times, it would certainly be easier to say, go do your iPod and give me some peace and quiet.  But, I’m resisting the urge.

Another area I tend to give Big the easy way out is school.  “Big can’t be expected to…write on topics he doesn’t prefer, take notes, eat in the cafeteria and on and on and on.”  But the truth is, every time I limit him by saying he can’t or he can’t be expected to do something, I deny him the chance to grow and change.  He CAN write on topics he doesn’t like; he might not WANT to, he might not LIKE it, it might not be PLEASANT for anyone involved, but he certainly CAN. In the school world, I’m changing my ways (of thinking) from he can’t to “it’s a challenge for him to” because, it IS a challenge for him to do these things.

Years ago, we were in therapy for food aversions. Big didn’t eat. For days and days and days at a time. I remember thinking, there is absolutely no way he will ever eat what we eat at dinner. Through persistence, and years of trying and trying again, this summer we’ve reached a major milestone. Big (and now the WeeOne) will sit down, and eat what I put in front of him without a meltdown, tears (mine) or it taking hours to eat. It feels like a miracle. But it’s not. It was a slow, painstaking process of changing my mindset and his from can’t to can and more importantly WILL.

The other day, I got a figurative punch in the stomach. One of Big’s go to people isn’t going to be available next year at school. I was so upset, crying, knot in my stomach and gave myself a migraine from the worry. My first thought was “Big can’t transition to this new school without this person.  There’s no way. He’s already apprehensive and full of anxiety and fear, there’s no way he can do this.” It’s such an easy thing to fall back into those patterns of excuses. We want to shield our children from the hurt and pain of the world as much as possible, but that’s not real life. Real life is messy and hard and so, so worth it. As I was talking to my dad, like I always do when I’m worried, he said “One thing is for sure:  Big is a survivor.” It’s true, the things I’ve always excused away, may be challenges for big, but he will power through them.  And by powering through, with stumbles and falls, he will grow and learn and become a better human being for them.

Ultimately, I never want to teach my sons that it’s okay to not do something simply because it is hard.  The hard stuff is how we gain insight, experience, empathy, love. Big is going to have a life full of hard things, things that feel like there’s no way he can accomplish them.  I want to give him the gift of knowing that he can and WILL.