I wish I could take more credit. Last week I enjoyed a drink with a former work colleague, a mother of three young boys, who does not know that Martin has autism. She and her husband are both lawyers, full-time. (I don’t know how they do it.) She was complaining that none of their kids can fall asleep alone; her husband stays with the older two, while she falls asleep, and usually spends the entire night, in the youngest’s bed. Does Martin fall asleep by himself? she asked. Yes, I responded. I can put him in bed and leave. “You are so lucky!” my former colleague said. She’s right: I am lucky. Still, I wanted to say, “Yes, he falls asleep by himself, but he also has autism, and curing his autism has taken over my life. Would you choose that deal?” I wanted to take credit for doing more than standard mom tasks, especially since my conversation partner works while I don’t, and has three kids to my one. Instead, I let her think I have it easy.
When I hear about other ASD kids making more progress, or faster progress, than Martin, it gives me hope. It also makes me angry and resentful. Why not our turn? Why not yet? What more do I have to do?
I suspect that some of the interventions we do are just so much hocus-pocus.
I am angry that we “did everything right” and Martin still has autism. While I was pregnant with Martin I avoided alcohol, watched my protein and nutrient intake, chose organic foods, refused to get my hair highlighted, had Adrian clean the cats’ litter boxes, exercised without jostling my belly, and got ample rest. (The good old days.) I breastfed Martin for six months exclusively, and 21 months total. We soothed him by the Happiest Baby method, ensured a proper sleep environment, read to him, played with him, coddled him. When I see a parent on the subway, at midnight, unjustifiably yelling at toddlers who are clutching Doritos and Mountain Dew, I think, “Really? You get the neurotypical kids, while mine has autism? That’s fair.” I try to redirect that ugly thought by remembering that, however unfair my lot feels, those sleep-deprived, junk-food-fueled kids have it worse. And thank goodness they don’t have autism added to their burdens. The redirection succeeds, but I can’t deny that the initial thought happens.
I become impatient with Martin over behaviors that I want him to control, even though I know they are symptoms of his ASD and not in any way his “fault.” Skipping. Chewing on a straw in the corner of his mouth. Letting himself fall slack. Taking 20 minutes to manage any task, even to pull up his pants after using the toilet. Worst, I get annoyed when he doesn’t pay attention to what I’m saying, or to what he’s doing, or to what’s going on around him. I know I shouldn’t. I try hard not to. Most of the time I can stop myself. When I can’t, I console myself by remembering that plenty parents of neurotypical four-year-olds lose patience because their children are acting like—four-year-olds.
I have doubts about whether we’ll get there. I have them often.
I love the BeeGees, the Doobie Brothers, Peter Gabriel, and Edith Piaf. That’s not related to Martin’s autism. It’s just kind of quirky.