Elliott and I spoke about the Stories of Autism project. We visited the website and he read the names and looked through the pictures. I asked him what he’s like his story to say.
“I have autism. I am doing great. I like playing my computer, going outside, going for rides, getting groceries, and making money by doing chores. In summer, I would like to learn how to drive the riding lawn mower.”
They day of our picture was Elliot’s nineteenth birthday. He is correct when he states he is doing great. As his mom, I am struggling with this essay because I have nineteen years’ worth of experiences to relate. However, I know parents of children on the spectrum have little time and probably won’t read an entire novel about my son’s journeys.
Looking over the reams of notes I have jotted down over the past few weeks, the predominant theme is to trust your instincts. You are the expert on your child, not any ill-informed professional.
We are subjected to the following statements about Elliot:
“Stone-cold deaf.” (BEAR test confirmed he has hypereracusis.)
“Incapable of imaginative play” while he was making pretend food to feed me.
“Never going to understand words.”
“Never going to speak except like a tape recorder or parrot.”
“Never be potty-trained.” (He had been for over a year when this was said.)
“A burden for the rest of his life.”
“A threat to all NORMAL people.”
“Not allowed to refuse ANY directive from an adult or NORMAL child.”
Elliott has far surpassed the predictions of these “experts” and has grown and matured into a phenomenal human being. Elliot is kind, gentle, inquisitive, and, most importantly, he is happy.
Elliot is a friend to everyone he meets, expecting nothing but kindness in return. He does not possess any judgmental prejudices. If you are nice, Elliot likes you. If you play video games with him, you are good. (If you can't beat him, you are wonderful!) Elliot greets each new day with a smile and a “Good Morning.”
If you are still reading, know that wherever you are in this journey known as parenting, things will change. Most will be positive, some will be negative, and others will be bittersweet. Elliot was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde baby but infancy was marred by colic, feeding intolerance, failure to thrive, reflux, and hospitalizations.
As a preschooler, Elliot possessed no verbal language but quickly adapted to picture communication. He could imitate animal sounds so acutely you found yourself looking for the cat or a cow or a pig. He embraced sign language. And we met more tremendous people.
In early childhood, Elliot began to vocalize. At first, just letter sounds then single syllables, then words. As he gained these skills, his ability to imitate animal sounds became less until he gave neuro-typical responses such as “meow,” “moo,” and “oink.” We met more tremendous people (and a few that weren’t so tremendous.)
Schools brought IEPs, fighting for a learning environment as our school system felt inclusion simply meant a “special” room in a building with neuro-typical children without any mingling of the two populations, fighting for textbooks as the system felt it would be a waste to utilize them for “special” children when there were more “normal” children that could better use them, and my presence in the classroom to assure that Elliot was not left to play computer games all day long. We met some more tremendous people – educators, principals, and classroom aides. We also were introduced to the absurdity of individuals involved in our educational system that do not believe every child should be provided with an education. We also were exposed to some that Elliot describes as “monsters,” entities that felt he should be physically assaulted to “teach” him how to comply.
Early adolescence brought the realization that Elliot was not being socialized by the school system, but ostracized and victimized by students and educators alike. Elliot became the private student of Albright Academy. His classroom was the dining room, his desk was our dinner table. Here he thrived and showed great interest in Science and Social Studies.
Elliot is now an adult. He still loves geography, space exploration, and presidential studies. He dislikes writing and spelling. Self-directed reading is great, assigned reading is not. He has goals and dreams like everyone else. His journey to achieve those goals and dreams are his own. As his mom, I try to support him while ignoring my fears. This is not any different than how I parent his older sister.
Erin, proud mother of Elliot and Erika
Michigan City, IN