Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Spoonful of Carrot

If I could go back in time and tell my early-diagnosis-self a thing or two, I know just what I'd say: don't sweat the small stuff. Of course I'd probably also want to take my shoulders in my more wizened hands and shake good and hard. I could have used that back then. But this business about the small stuff? So important. When I look back over the countless things that occupied me, that took up emotional space that I was borrowing from something more important, well, I see that those things weren't worth the amount of upset that I caused myself, Oliver, and the rest of the family. The list is long and varied: wearing shoes and socks, wearing a coat, eating with utensils, biting fingernails, picking the nose, licking this, that and the other thing. ... um, that poop thing. ... well, you get the idea. Some of you may know that while you are in the midst of these things they feel like such a very big deal. In the midst of it there were times when I felt at war. I felt that I needed to conquer or -- in the terms of ABA -- to extinguish. Now I can only shake my head at myself. This was my child, not my enemy.

I'm reflecting on this lately because Oliver is newly interested in utensils. Yes, you read that right: spoons, forks, knives, ladles, whisks -- you name it. At first I didn't really pay much attention, Oliver just seemed to always have a fork or a spoon in his hand. But we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together. Then I slowly realized that our meals were without drama. They were without the monitoring and reminding. (Oliver, don't forget to use your fork. Your fork, Oliver!) And it only smacked me in the head when I realized that Oliver was now using utensils for everything. And I mean everything. Witness this photo (that I took especially for Keen):

Can you make that out? Yes, that's a carrot he's eating. With a spoon. (I don't know: why am I not worried about this? Isn't this an obsession? Maybe I only find it so utterly delightful because it is a useful obsession in my mind.) But anyway. If I could go back in time I'd tell myself that this is the way of things. In the end it doesn't really matter if he chooses to eat his spaghetti with his fingers and his carrots with a spoon.

So then what does matter? Well, I don't know. I'm still in the process of figuring it out. My eternal process. But if you were to ask me now I might say something so obvious that I'll end up giving myself away. You might realize by my answer that my journey to motherhood was slower even than I first reported. But I'll go ahead and say it anyway because it is something that has been occupying so much of my thinking of late.

If I could go back in time and change one thing it would be this: I would spend far more time making sure that Oliver knows that there is no "right" way of doing things, of thinking, of being. And I wouldn't just tell him that, I would really believe it. You see, for me that is the real key. In fact, not to give myself too much importance here, but sometimes I wonder how much of Oliver's anxiety has to do with the autism and how much of it is due to my reactions to the autism -- and all the sweating I've done of the small stuff.

So, I'm just curious: if you could go back in time and tell yourself one very important thing about this journey you've embarked on -- what would it be?


  1. Aaack. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'd go all the way back to the FIRST child- the stepchild, and let a lot of stuff go. The days I bitched and bitched because she wanted to wear jeans in the summer or shorts in the winter... who cares? Who cares?

    Motherhood is a journey, more than one kid is a branch of the journey, autism is another leg. I should have bought better shoes for this trip!

  2. I don't think I could add anything to what you already wrote. I think I would just hug myself, say this is going to hurt a lot. You will get through it, all the suffering is about you, not him. It is about your stuff. He is not going to "recover," but you will. Just love him, he's a great kid.

  3. I would tell my early diagnosis self to reach out as quickly as possible to loving support. I would tell myself to write everything down. I would tell myself, "I love you, self."

  4. Anonymous9:45 AM

    it would be very similar to what you say so well here. the anxiety. MY anxiety. it's powerful and couldn't help but affect those around me, including my son. i would have told my self, there was no emergency. no emergency here.

  5. Gosh, you know I really needed to read this post today -- because I've been a bundle of anxiety for its entirety and I know this must affect my boys. Lots of wise stuff here. And I love the picture!

    I think I would tell me early-diagnosis self: "When your husband says to go take a nap, don't look at him like he's crazy and mutter something about how you shouldn't. Run to your room and close the door already."

  6. I would just play. Play a lot! I would play with Andrew instead of all those hours he spent "looking" and "do this" and "point to" with those other people. I cared WAY too much about the stimming! Way too much. My anxiety definitely brought out his anxiety more. Still does sometimes. When we backed off with the "look at me", his eye contact got so much better. More relaxed. I would just relax and play. That's what I still need to remind myself to do.

  7. first not to trust the professionals, as we have had some awful ones. second you re on your own with this (in my case, I am not trying to scare anyone here!) SLT? I am the freakin SLT.

    Last, and most important, that whilst my opinion on autism has always been a VERY accepting one I did do a lot of stuff as I thought I was helping him, where I wasn't.

    Oh and fourth, sorry, that my son is going to end up teaching his dad and me a hell of a lot about ourselves.

  8. Hahaha! LOVE the photo, but I especially love how you turned it into such a thought-provoking post, which garnered comments that I know I will find very useful once I mull them over a bit. And, oh, the sweating of the small stuff, it can turn me into a person I don't much like.

    This is all so new to me that I feel like I don't quite know what I'm doing and worry about what lies ahead, but I suppose I would tell myself: You're not alone, there are other people going through this Many of them are women who write amazing blogs, and their stories will give you more hope than you imagine.

    (I've been AWOL, I'll post a couple of pictures on my blog!)

  9. I would tell my early-diagnosis self, don't worry about experts and what they think. Your instincts are usually right. Things will get better, although not as quickly as you are hoping.

    Mostly...enjoy those sweet little guys the way they are!

  10. The picture is really cute! I feel your pain...I have a four year old with autism.