(VIDEO)Link: From PBS Elisa Leavitt explains her son's Aspergers Syndrome
Autism's known best to the world as the symbol of a puzzle piece. Unless you actually know a child or adult with autism, it is a very hard thing to understand. The puzzle piece is very fitting, as it is a very complicated. As with most things in my life, I can't help but see God's sense of humor in giving me a child who is in the Autistic spectrum, as all my life I have claimed to HATE puzzles.
My mother's favorite thing to do when i was a small child was work on puzzles. Her favorite were the most challenging. I remember her system, and watching her silently put each interlocking piece in one by one until it was done, then she would immediately take it apart and put all the thousands of painstakingly put together, cardboard, jigsaw shapes back into their box. She asked me all the time to join her, it would be all of 5 minutes before I felt so frustrated that I'd jump up to leave. Puzzles are the equivalent to a migraine headache to me. My entire body seems to wretch with the notion of such a tedious project that you just destroy when its finished.
Not shockingly, the greatest gift of my life "my firstborn child" is one giant puzzle. God's humor is really something. I guess that everyone should get good at solving puzzles. Including me. The kick in the pants is, that my son's 'picture' changes like the wind. As soon as I think I have figured out how to put the last puzzle pieces together- or at the very least, the pieces that will give me a clue of what the picture is supposed to be, he changes and gives me a whole new puzzle. The last one I was putting together (often working on it for months) destroyed and put back in the box. My son's "puzzle" comes in boxes with no helpful photo on the front you see. I have to wing it. I try to sift through his emotions, his meltdowns and his quirky behaviors DESPERATELY trying to find the edge pieces to try to understand how big the puzzle is. What i have gathered so far is that this autism thing, this puzzle is unlike any puzzle you can buy in a store.
There are no clean edges. The shape of the autism puzzle is not square. None of it makes sense, because in my neurotypical world of understanding and how my brain is wired, It's a puzzle that I cannot wrap my head around. Its a puzzle that often sucks everything I have out of me, and leaves me dizzy with exhaustion.
Thankfully, God not only gifted me with this amazing boy with a beautiful mind I can't quite figure out yet, but seems He gifted me with some sort of strength and patience also. Although I am tired at the end of each day and I often want to pull my hair out in frustration. Not understanding what could possibly upset my son so much, that he is holed up in his room punching pillows. Somehow, by some miracle.. I haven't wanted to quit trying to solve the puzzle. The longer I live in the same house with my son, the more I begin to grasp that it can never be solved.
Neurotypical is another way of saying- I'm not on the spectrum of autism. Although, we all have sensory issues to varying degrees, and we all have quirks. Some may argue we are ALL on the spectrum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotypical I cannot deny my own quirks- but I can see plain as day exactly why I don't fall under the canopy of autism. I thrive on social interaction. I read facial expressions well, often too well. I chit chat better than most and could do a 2 hour speech on the lint collecting under my dryer. My son is a man of few words. I have to program him like a robot. I have to program him with socially acceptable answers to things, as his real responses are usually so offensive or there is just NO response at all, leaving the 4 walls of our home he doesn't always function so well.
What my son has is called Asperger's Syndrome http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger%27s_Syndrome.
Asperger's is a fascinating diagnosis. In every way, my son looks like a perfectly regular kid. To my husband and I, he's exceptional. We of course, are allowed to think so. Sometimes, he even acts like a regular 8 year old. Then, he opens his mouth. Not a whole lot of 'regular' 8 year old's can tell you everything there is to know about the Presidents of the United states. From the year they were born, what number president they were, what party they belonged to -- and most amazingly to me, when my son meets someone, he often asks them their birthday. (This is often misunderstood as rude, as many ladies don't enjoy giving out the YEAR of their birth!) My son then, will tell them who was the President serving at the time they were born and sometimes, other world events. His brain is like a computer with dates. He obsesses on things, he has Echolalia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echolalia which drives everyone around him crazy. As his mother even, it drives me mad. A completely involuntary tic of repeating himself under his breath - sometimes after every sentence. Easy to imagine this goes over really well in social situations at school right? No. He is his own worst enemy, and he doesn't have any idea. I don't think he even knows he does it. Even if he is aware. I am 100 % sure he doesn't care.
All of that is to say that the puzzle, or Autism, is a terribly challenging road to navigate as a parent. Since no two kids are alike, neither are kids with Autism spectrum disorders. There are a lot of books, and boy I have read a lot of them. But there is not a book or website that can tell me what happened today that made my kid have a full-blown meltdown, and exactly how to handle the meltdown. The pressure is mounting, he will be approaching puberty before we know it. The rush of testosterone that will absolutely transform him into a man, can also look a lot more like The Incredible Hulk on a boy with a large frame, and a very very big tendency toward violent outbursts. The better I can teach him how to take out aggression in a healthy way, program him with appropriate responses NOW, the less likely he will run into HUGE problems in school, his job, or just walking down the street.
I have a whole new appreciation for puzzles these days. I won't be purchasing a 50,000 piece puzzle of broken crayons or candy corn any time soon, my hands are pretty full as it is. I am very thankful for the online support I have, for the staff at my son's school who have gone above and beyond helping him transition from home to the school environment WELL. I'm forever thankful to the people who have traveled this road and who were thoughtful enough to write a book about it. (chances are- I read it.) And I am overjoyed to have a husband who is supportive of my efforts, and parents WITH me.
Puzzles this large require more than one set of hands. I am forever thankful to everyone who's offered theirs to help me.