Defiance

The post titled “Guilt” was about me—my guilt. This post concerns Martin. Specifically, his unrelenting, unabashed defiance.

It has come to my attention that a child recovering from autism passes through phases of childhood on a delayed basis. For example, he might suddenly, at three years old, become fascinated with toys designed for an 18-month-old, either because that’s the point his development now has reached, or because he needs to return to some stage he missed.

Martin’s homotoxicologist, at the same time, has warned me that we need to expect some emotions during different phases of recovery, as toxins pass out of Martin’s system. Those emotions include anger, anxiety, vivacity, and—defiance.

I’m a first-time parent. I have no inkling at what age a neurotypical child hits a defiance period. I have, by contrast, pinpointed exactly when Martin does: now.

For the last five days or so (indeed, since right about when he started to emerge from the last month’s foggy funk), Martin has resisted everything. He won’t sit on the potty, which is usually his No. 1 pastime. If I suggest the shark pajamas, he wants the dinosaur pajamas, or the skateboarding-monkey pajamas, or the dogs-in-cars pajamas, or anything except the shark pajamas. He rebels against wearing pants. Pants! This morning he metamorphosed into a rabid hyena when I suggested that he have a bite of his favorite muffin.

The instant I managed to wedge a morsel into his mouth, the hyena fled and Martin returned, eager to inhale the rest of the muffin. Thanks, kiddo.

Martin’s therapists find this defiance development most exciting. “He’s really showing a greater sense of self!” “So encouraging, how he’s trying to assert individuality and parental separation.”

We live in a neighborhood with several private preparatory schools. (I’m not worried about giving too much identifying information, because “several private preparatory schools” describes 92.47% of neighborhoods in the five boroughs.) Earlier this year I found it hard to see teenagers from these schools hanging out in the deli, tossing a football, gallivanting the sidewalks, doing whatever teenagers do. “Oh,” I would think, “you think you’re sooooo special, just because you’re neurotypical. Big deal.” I was misplacing anger on kids who never had to struggle the way mine does.

Witnessing Martin’s nascent recovery brought me to a different place. The anger dissipated into something more like anticipation. Ten years from now, when Martin has become a hostile 13-year-old who rejects his parents in favor of friends, I’ll be able to relish the moment. I’ll think how close we came to never having a self-centered little jerk around the house, and how relieved I am that we managed to create one.

So it also shall be now with defiance. When Martin is tearing, pants-less, through the living room shouting No! No! No! at full volume—even though I haven’t asked him to do anything—I shall wallow in joy that we have reached a “greater sense of self” marked by “individuality and parental separation.” I shall celebrate reaching this milestone, belated or no.

I shall, I shall. I … promise … I … shall.

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