Today was the day I had “the talk” with my son. No, not that talk! At least not for a few years. Haha! The Autism Parent “You have Autism” talk. All jokes aside, how do you even begin to tell your child that? How do you tell them they have a disability that is going to make them process things differently? Make them feel more overwhelmed than everyone else? Make them different socially at times? And that they will have this for the rest of their life. How do you keep it together?
We’ve suspected Ethan has Autism since he was about 3 years old. Almost 3 years. This was based on a referral when he could not function in mainstream preschool and the subsequent results of school and state evaluations. We have already grieved our son’s challenges and then dusted ourselves off and tried to help him be the best he can be and be as normal a family as possible. However, until today I have not told him he had Autism because we did not have the results of a formal evaluation and until we knew for sure I didn’t want to confuse him. Today we got those results based on an evaluation he took last week at a facility. He has High Functioning Autism and Mild ADHD. And apparently a MENSA level IQ (which didn’t come as a complete surprise). I’ve had three years to prepare so I should know what to say but I didn’t so I turned to my friend Elmo.
You read that right. I turned to Elmo to help me tell my son he has Autism. When I was at Beaches Mom’s conference at Beaches Turks & Caicos I had the honor of listening to Sesame Street’s CEO talk about their soon to be launched See Amazing program. (Sesame Street is an exclusive partner of Beaches and as you can see you can meet the friends at the resorts.) This program is a series of stories, videos, and resources to help others realize how amazing children with Autism are but also to help children with Autism to See Amazing in themselves. Some of the videos like the one below include Elmo and his friend Julia who happens to have Autism. I knew See Amazing was the resource I needed to tell my son about his Autism on a level he could understand. See Amazing is such a ground breaking gift to Autism families and also to help others understand the incredible kids that have Autism.
We watched a few of the videos about Julia and Benny. At the end I told him he had Autism like Julia and Benny and that we loved him very much and were so very proud of what an amazing kid he is. I asked him if he had any questions. He said no. I asked him if he understood what Autism means. He said “It means I think different. But I’m cool.” YES!!! Then he asked if he had Tee ball tomorrow. Alrighty then. Good talk. That went well. 🙂
I am not downplaying his autism at all. Trust me we have our challenges and some things we are working on especially at school and I am sure there will be other talks about autism and I’m sure they will get harder as he gets older and maybe there will be some tears. There was just such irony and contrast of the build up today in my head of this dramatic talk we would have versus how kids can take things in stride. It goes to show See Amazing is perfect for telling them at a level they can understand and is age appropriate.
And let me tell you, my Ethan is amazing and so are the therapists and teachers who have worked with him. He is now in a mainstream kindergarten with some support when 3 years ago he could not be in a mainstream preschool class. He is also in the Gifted and Talented Program. Again, it’s not all roses. He has trouble with personal space. He has trouble being still. Transitions and changes in routine can be a problem. He still often wears his headphones. But he can do so many things that other kids can do!
He has been to Ireland, Mexico, and Disney World twice! He has cooked with Food Network star Sandra Lee! We hope to bring him to Beaches in the fall and See Amazing will make meeting Elmo and friends that much more special.
He is in a mainstream gymnastics class at a wonderful place that is aware of his challenges and works with him.
He plays on a mainstream tee ball team with his sister and I’m one of the coaches. His autism rears it’s head when the waiting while playing defense becomes too much. This kid just wants to hit and run bases! There’s no crying in baseball doesn’t always hold true, but that’s okay. We hug. We breathe. And we keep trying.
Some things are still hard. Like when mom has a special needs mom fail and forgets his headphones at the loud movie at the Kennedy Space Center. Or when he’s rolling around LAX because security wouldn’t let him take his shoes off and how could he not know that’s what you do because that’s what “The Noisy Airplane Ride” book says to do.
No matter what we encounter on this Autism journey though, I want him to see how amazing he is. Thanks to See Amazing we can talk about autism and hopefully he and others will come to know that Autism means different not less. I want him to know how kind, funny, and flat out brilliant he is. I want him to know that even when things get hard, believe in himself and give a mighty tug and he can do anything.