Last year around this time, I thought I was a bad parent.
I have limited experience with young children, so I had only an inkling of how difficult managing a two-year-old should be. I just knew that watching Martin utterly exasperated me. He would not respond when I called him; he failed to follow the simplest directions; my anger, or annoyance, only amused him; time-outs produced no effects; the simplest task (putting on shoes, getting out the door) blossomed into a twenty-minute test of nerves.
I am not a loud person. Nor am I aggressive toward my child. Still, I found myself yelling, struggling to command, if not his obedience, then at least his attention.
The evening hours, when Samara had gone home and I needed to prepare dinner, hurt the most. Unable to occupy himself for more than a few seconds, Martin whined continuously, ran circles around our staircase, caused injury to himself or our possessions. These evening hours were my primary time with Martin, and I should have relished them. Instead, I sometimes dreaded Samara’s departure. That’s hard to admit. But it’s true.
Martin’s ASD diagnosis helped little. For the first time I understood why we struggled, and my empathy for Martin grew. Understanding and empathy, however, did not translate into increased ability to control his behavior. I was lost.
Six months into biomedical treatment of Martin’s autism, he does not behave perfectly, or even as a three-year-old with typical self-control might. For example, if I’m not next to him, reminding him to stay and eat, Martin wanders away from the breakfast table. He can be hyperactive. Although we’ve taught him the meaning of “clean up,” he has a narrow appreciation for order. When he’s done with a toy or object, he drops it and walks away. By dinnertime, chaos overtakes the apartment.
And the toughest part is that, with limited exceptions, Martin remains unable to read facial expressions or comprehend displeasure. He still considers almost any display of emotion humorous. Last night, as he was falling asleep, Martin repeated, dozens of times, “Martin, I am angry with you. Martin, Mommy is angry,” and laughed. That pretty much encapsulated my attempts at discipline.
Nevertheless, we’ve seen improvement in Martin’s ability to play and mastery of his own actions—skills that enable me to look forward to our time together. (Now that his new school has started, our time has shifted to the early-morning hours, with a bedtime addendum.) Simply because he does not need to keep constantly in motion, Martin finds less trouble to get into. The improvements in his attention and play skills mean that I might find him quietly building a chain of trains or looking through a book while I prepare a meal. With better receptive language, he understands more and more what I want him to do, and he often goes along with minimal cajoling. He also seems to know that eventually Mommy will get her way; when he’s in an amenable mood, he’s fine with Mommy prevailing sooner rather than later.
I haven’t raised my voice in weeks, except for the occasion when Martin slipped his hand from my grasp and ran into an active parking lot.
Of course, this isn’t all from the biomedical intervention. I’ve learned how better to handle Martin’s needs, such as transitioning him away from an object of obsession (like a guitar). A dedicated team of behavioral therapists also has helped. Finally, Martin is maturing.
Even ASD kids mature, right?