I, like many of my friends will read various mommy posts and other articles via the Facebook feed. And when I stumbled upon Julianna Miner’s post “The Sweet Spot” on the Huffington Post I couldn’t help but think about how what we (as autism parents) may describe as a sweet spot is a tad different. I also wondered if there really was such a thing. An illustrious space in parenthood without so much stress?
Of course what is stressful to one family will vary, and our perception is our reality.
So the “sweet spot” for Autism is going to look a lot different than what Ms. Miner posted about.
For us, I had already thought before ever reading her lovely post that this is what I would call “a peaceful period”. The lull in-between the ridiculous amounts of therapy, schedules, transition issues, tantrums, potty training and before the onset of the p word. The word all parents fear, but especial those who have children with sensory and hormonally based challenges (like anxiety)
There I wrote it, the stupid word shouldn’t have so much power, and I know better it only does if I give it to it. But the fact is, after dealing with all that other stuff for years upon years, I am simply not ready for those changes. At least not yet. So this is a peaceful period, where his understanding is better, the eye contact is more, the abilities have grown and the back talk isn’t happening yet (or at least often)
Perhaps your child is finally potty trained, or is at least throughout the day. I remember when we went to just overnights, how much better that was. But we were not where we are now with other things.
Transitions are still rough, they will always be rough. But the meltdowns they generate have decreased. Where we would experience them multiple times a day, now only seems to happen a few times a week, with bigger transitions. (such as traveling to another state). Changing classes is still a big no, for after the third transition on a school day the body is done complying. But a few are just fine now. Shopping in a store before meant only for 30 minutes, and no more than 2 (and this is at the height of "functionability") Now we can do maybe 3 stores, and I just let him use his ipod or talk to himself to regulate.
They can semi-articulate what is bothering them. Instead of just unintelligible screaming or flailing. When upset now he can say “I am so mad” so I at least have a few moments to prepare, hopefully redirect or at least duck and cover. I also would say the things that upset him are less, and when he does get upset it doesn’t last as long. He still sometimes will grunt or say "ah ah" instead of articulating when he is far gone. But this is usually connected to low blood sugar.
So what was once 1-2 hour sessions of stress and mayhem several times a day has come down to maybe 30 minutes. It would depend if he had school or not, days not in school it doesn’t happen regularly (but still does). School days you can count on it most days, (see transitions) And of course when it comes to homework time.
They have improved on self-care. My son still needs help washing his hair if I want it clean that is. But he is capable of using the soap (probably most of it though, thank goodness for coupons) and brushing his own teeth. He will have to be reminded of the latter. There was a time though when both of these things were fraught with confusion, pain and noncompliance. But overall the noncompliance came from the confusion and pain. Once he got use to the sensory aspect, and he understood what he had to do, then it was just an issue of reminding. Dressing has improved, he rarely puts his shorts on backwards, but sometimes the shirts. Socks still take a long time, but he can do it.
As far as hugs and affection we know that if we get that at all we are lucky. I would say with having better sensory control he sometimes offers this. So the years of practice and drills that taught him how to give a hug or a kiss are starting to pay off. These he will give of his own initiative when he is balanced and not stressed out. It still can surprise me.
But taking out the garbage, well maybe next year. Most of us know that letting a child on the spectrum outside, unattended, runs a much greater risk of them ever coming back in, as opposed to “NT” (neurotypicals) of the same linear age. ASD kids get distracted, they wander, and they also have different levels of motor skills. But he is more capable of cleaning up after himself, yes if I want it to be done correctly I still have to stand there and wave and point (which saves no time whatsoever) or I go back over it later. Regardless there is still some cleaning up, even if it is all put into one container.
One thing that I know now, that I sure didn’t when this all began is how much I “get it”. How much we realize our son’s strengths and weakness, how that is ok and how he can accomplish many of the same things as anyone else. But our journey to get there will be different and longer. It may take him longer to practice washing that hair to master it, or longer to practice being allowed outside alone (as you watch) to come right back in. But it can happen. It just isn’t going to happen based on some else’s schedule or them wishing for it. It will happen based on only our son’s abilities. So when people want to critize, judge or have “questions” always remember your life and your child’s life doesn’t exist for their convenience. Things may not go just the way they would like and maybe sometimes that means they will have to work harder or understand more…it’s a price you pay to have such a special person in your life and it’s up to them to choose to have that or not. Just as it’s up to you to allow them the opportunity.