AUTISM

My son Joshua was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or High-functioning Autism when he was 9 years old. When he was younger, he had a lot of hyperactivity. As a teenager, he is more introverted and not as rowdy. He still has sensory, socializing and a few other difficulties that we are still navigating through.

SENSORY OVERLOAD

In the beginning, I had no idea my son had sensory issues. How could he? He was always the loudest person in the room. It was not until he stood up on a chair at church after the choir finished singing and screamed at the top of his lungs, "These people sound awful; they should never sing again!" Utterly mortified, I sat there while my face turned ten shades of red, and I turned into a sweaty mess. I would have gladly joined in the laughter with the other parents if only that were not my child screaming. After church was over, a gracious parent came over to me to talk about sensory issues.

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MELTDOWNS

Because it took me a while to realize what triggered my son to get overwhelmed, he had plenty of meltdowns. Other than the typical sensory issues of noise, smells, bright lights, and clothes that were not soft, he did not like deviating from schedules. If I said we were going to the store and coming home, that is what he expected. If I remembered I needed to go to the bank, and it was fifty feet away, that was not what we agreed to do, and that was enough to trigger a meltdown. What made sense to me did not make sense to him. I had to rethink everything. The two blessings for me were talking to other moms with children with autism and that my son and I found humor along the way. It was hard to get too mad at him because he would make the silliest faces and make me laugh.

SMARTY PANTS

Through all of the difficulties, I know that my son is a "smarty pants." For the longest time, I did not think he knew how to begin a sentence without the phrase, "Guess what?" He was a walking encyclopedia filled with these amazing facts about plants, animals, science, history, the solar system, and just about anything else. He was an early reader, and we read a lot when he was younger. And despite being a teenager in the age of electronics, he is still teaching me new things all the time. He even told me all about Covid months before it was national news.

When he was five years old, we were in the doctor's office waiting room when he saw a boy playing with the toy he usually played with. Instead of getting angry, he just went over to another toy and acted like it was the best toy he had ever played with. He got the boy excited about it, and he asked him if he wanted to play, which he did. After the boy got up and went to join him, my son ran over to the other toy, said thank you, and proceeded to play without skipping a beat. You should have seen the look of disbelief on the other boy's face. Did I mention that my son is a rascal?

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SOCIALIZING

My son has much anxiety, with school being especially challenging for him to be around a ton of people for a fair amount of time. It is difficult for him to socialize with others, and small talk is stupid. His words, not mine. After school, he spends two or three hours in his room by himself to "decompress." We seldom do activities during the week. It isn't easy to get him to go places where he has never been with people he does not know because there are too many unknowns. And, quite possibly, no escape route. He knows I love to talk, and I am incredibly outgoing, so he gets nervous and never really wants to go anywhere. I am often distressed and upset by the time I get him out of the house, but I know that he will have a wonderful time once he is there. Getting him out of the house is ninety percent of the battle.

MAKING FRIENDS

This section is the most heart-breaking part for me to write but has the most significant opportunity for you, yes, you the reader, to make a difference in a child's life. To me, my son is a beautiful human with a heart of gold. Just like all the moms out there, our babies are perfect. As we try to be everything to our children, we cannot be their friends. I cannot be a teenage boy; I just cannot.

Many kids with Autism have a tough time with social cues and connecting with their peers. But they do desire to have friends just like any other kid. My son tells me that he feels invisible at his school. He tells me that the kids and teachers ignore him. He has not made a single friend in over a year and comes home crying every day because nobody talks to him.

As a mom, this breaks my heart. If you are a parent, please teach your child kindness. Teach them to reach out to the shy, quiet kids. They are lonely and sad and want to have a friend. Please say hello to them, sit by them, include them, and be kind to them. What a wonderful world that would be.

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