We have two boys, age 13 and 20. Our youngest was diagnosed with ADHD and Aspergers (now ASD, Autism Spectrum disorder) about 2 years ago. I grew up in a religious atmosphere that didn’t make room for much of what we know of psychology, especially child psychology and things like Autism. My husband grew up in a working class family that by nature just wasn’t aware of these things either. (Nothing against either of these situations, it was what it was!) So when our youngest son started having trouble in school academically and socially in second grade, it caught us off guard. Our first son was passing through school just fine. Eventually he graduated in the top 10% of his class with many friends and socially well-adjusted.
My husband and I would agree that both of our boys are highly intelligent, and after our older son’s success in school, we were not expecting to have any difficulties, especially in this area.
During the last half of his second grade year, Conner (our youngest) started getting in the car after school in tears, saying things like “I’m just stupid mom, I can’t do what the teacher wants me to do’” This is I knew was not true. His preschool, kindergarten and first grade years were all very successful. (Notwithstanding NOT being able to ride a bike, tie his shoes or tell time on a face clock. I should have had some clues then!) In first grade he had wowed his teacher and the class by drawing the United States (with all 50 states) without looking at a map. He got all the states in the right shapes and places. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, he’s even smarter than his brother, school should be a breeze!”
But by the end of second grade I knew something was really wrong. After researching, discussing and praying about it, we decided to homeschool Conner the next year. While we hadn’t received the formal diagnoses of the ADHD yet, I knew that this was a good fit for him, and so I schooled him accordingly. (I NEVER even considered Autism).
Around the middle of his fourth grade year we got the ADHD diagnosis and tried a short stint on medication, but that just didn’t seem to work well for Conner. While things went fairly well the first two years of homeschooling, by the third year I was at my wits end. I felt he was unmanageable and antagonistic toward the schoolwork and me. I had enrolled Conner in a local homeschool co-op and, through this, I met some women who gave me direction concerning my son.
An Unexpected Journey Into the World of Autism
The long and short of it is that I ended up taking him to a developmental specialist who helped us understand that, though Conner is really high functioning, he is on the Autism spectrum. My husband and I were floored.
We had such preconceived ideas about Autism that we never even considered that Conner would be a candidate. Yet, we leaned into it and started researching everything we could to try to help Conner. We are still learning. It is difficult sometimes because most people will look at him and not see it. However, if they try to teach him or lead him in a small group at church, it does show! At home, the two main ways it shows up are in his hyper focus (it’s volcanoes at the moment) and his anger. His frustration at things that I think he should be able to just ‘let go’ is something we are still trying to process and learn about.
For his sixth grade year we re-enrolled Conner in public school. This time we had a I.E.P. (Individual Education Program) and a team of teachers that understood Conner and how he functions. He is now finishing up his seventh grade year at a local school and doing well academically. (A caveat here; I do feel highly blessed that we had such a great experience re-integrating our son back into school, I know that many out there have not had that.) However, socially, he is struggling. And we are considering homeschooling him for his eighth grade year. Conner, himself, is REALLY desirous of this. I do not know how this will turn out, but knowing what we are up against this time around gives me much hope that we can work together to help Conner achieve all that he wants to do.
The interesting thing about introducing an ASD diagnoses into our shared families is that, after a while, we started looking around at certain family members thinking to ourselves “Wow, this would explain so much about so and so!”
For example, I’m convinced that my father and brother are both on the Autism spectrum. Both my Mom-in-law and I believe my husband could have benefited from the kind of help that Conner is now getting at his age. So instead of seeing ASD as being something negative that has descended on our family, it has instead been a way to help us understand each other better. My son’s diagnosis explains a few things about my own childhood experiences and helps me to give more grace when it’s needed. It could explain some things that my husband experienced in his learning difficulties in school as a kid and his current processing capabilities in his job.
[Tweet “ASD…has been a way to help us understand each other better.”]
This journey has been one of discovery, ‘ah ha’ moments and encouragement that I’m not alone in my struggle to help my son utilize the unique set of talents he has been given. I encourage any mom who has questions about her child to research, learn, takes trips to different doctors if need be, but keep searching until you feel you have the information you need to understand your child and help them be understood.
Cheryl is an artist, wife and mom to two boys. She also enjoys working with the middle school students at her church and mentoring young women, encouraging them in their journeys with Christ. Cheryl has been married for 27 years, and her husband is set to retire from police work this year. They are planning on focusing on growing Cheryl’s hand painted jewelry business.
Be sure to follow along with Coping Skills for Families Living with Autism to receive continued encouragement throughout the month of April as you journey along this special needs path with autism.