On Autism and the ever shifting landscape of parenthood

*A special guest post by mom and pediatrician, Dr. Denise Somsak.*

Mom on Stand By

The beginning of each school year is busy for all parents as we juggle not only the material needs of our children like new clothes, back packs, school supplies but also their emotional needs. 

Are we too involved, too demanding, too hands off, or just about right? 

Each year we let go a little more, and our children in one way or another amaze us.  We love them just as fiercely but our relationship with them evolves.  Each new skill mastered makes us proud but a hint of melancholy registers in the wrinkles around our eyes as we stand on the sidelines smiling.

My son has autism and a cognitive disability, so in his case I’ve been on the front lines not the sidelines.  Although I’m still his chief advocate, he is for the first time in nine years developing a sense of self.  It’s not merely that he can articulate his wants much more clearly, but he actually has a facial expression for pride.

He loves to sing while looking in the mirror and not in the way teenagers pose and strut but in the way two year olds are finally aware that the reflection they see is in fact them.  His teachers and aides tell me he is much more independent at school than last year and is modeling his peers without verbal prompting.  He gets on and off the bus without an aid or any help from us.  Unlike his father, he even occasionally shuts the door when he goes to the bathroom.

When I come home at the end of the day, he approaches me with a very engaging and sincere, “Hi, Mommy.  How was work?”  He doesn’t know how to respond to my answer, but he waits for it.

Do I still put on his socks and brush his teeth?  Yes.

Does he leave the room whenever his sisters enter?  Yes.

Does he love spinning things and watching baby einstein videos on youtube?  Yes.

Does he hug me and unsuspecting women on elevators inappropriately? Yes.

But this is part of who is and not likely to change anytime soon.

When he was nine months old seizing and unable to sit up or vocalize, my pessimistic husband and I hoped for the best but expected the worst.  We never wanted our son to experience the pain of knowing his limitations.  We imagined him a grown Forrest Gump sadly saying to the girl of his dreams, “I am not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

We imagined him being bullied and teased beyond our ability to protect him.  Luckily (can you call it luck?) he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s different.  If he does, it doesn’t bother him.  We cannot protect him forever, so luckily (there’s that word again), he has more champions than bullies in his world.  He’s a likable guy and more and more I realize that I’m not the only one who appreciates his low key gentleness.

This year is not drastically different: same school, same room for the IEP meeting, similar teachers and friends, but something has changed in a way I cannot quite pinpoint.  There has not been any monumental shift in my parenting, but I am more comfortable, relaxed.  David is more confident.

It’s not merely that he can do simple things for himself, but he wants to do them.

How are your children surprising you this school year?  Any tectonic shifts or just tremors?  Parenting…how are any of us still standing?

*Dr. Somsak is a pediatrician and a proud mom of three who describes herself as a no frills, practical gal. She writes about parenting and children’s health with honesty and authenticity. She practices pediatrics in Ohio and uses social media to learn, connect and inform. You’ll want to follow along by reading her blog, Pensive Pediatrician and following her on twitter.*

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3 Responses to On Autism and the ever shifting landscape of parenthood
  1. Melissa
    October 24, 2012 | 9:55 am

    Thank you so much, Dr. Som for sharing this poignant post with us! Every year is truly an adjustment (for all of us) and like you, each year of growth is both pride filled and mixed with a bit of heartache.

  2. Jessica
    October 24, 2012 | 7:10 pm

    So glad I read this post and so glad you had Dr. Som here, Melissa. I feel so much of the same for Ashlyn. We are in Michigan and maybe the drive to Ohio to have a pediatrician who understands exactly how I feel wouldn’t be too bad.

    • Melissa
      October 25, 2012 | 10:30 am

      I think you would be in very good hands if you did, Jessica :-)