Monday, April 11, 2011

Asperger's: Coming to the Place of Acceptance

Caleb's Florida find: a lizard shirt! He was so excited to wear it to school.

I was asked by my MOPs group to write an article about Caleb. Tonight, the words poured out, and I drafted the following article. If interested, please peruse. Keep in mind, two things:

1) It's lengthy.

They asked me to write about a subject that's consumed me the last several years. I had a lot to say.

2) Please overlook the edits.

I'm planning to look for edits tomorrow, when I'm a tad bit fresher.

Here goes:

In the winter of 2002, I delivered my first son, Caleb. I took one look at my precious baby, and was smitten. I’d snuggle him and imagine the next 18 + years rolling by beautifully. I envisioned us playing ball in the backyard, cuddling on the couch while watching a movie, and camping out in the backyard with his friends. To say I entered motherhood in ignorant bliss would be an understatement.

From the beginning, Caleb was different. As an infant, he lacked eye contact and seemed exceedingly alert. By the time he entered toddlerhood, he threw mammoth fits, became easily fixated on objects, and seemed extra sensitive to aromas and textures. In the midst of all these challenges, he wowed us with his advanced vocabulary, early reading, vast memory, and mature interests (think National Geographic). He adored lizards, and would spend hours poured over reptile guides. We shrugged off his differences by telling ourselves, he was merely an active, quirky, smart little boy. Then, we enrolled him in preschool and life began to change.

By the time Caleb entered school, his differences were apparent. He could barely get through a school day without incident. Transitions seemed to be his biggest hurdle. He wasn’t making friends. Home life was tough. We desperately needed help.

At the age of six, Caleb underwent extensive testing. We needed answers and a plan. During the process, a swim teacher (a seasoned school teacher by occupation) referred to him as a “high functioning autistic child.” It was the first time anyone had uttered the “A” word, and I was in shock. A few weeks later her words would prove true. Caleb’s test results placed him on the autism spectrum. Later, he would be specifically diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome conjures up images of Rainmanesque individuals who ramble off facts and memorize phone books. Caleb’s no Rainman, but he does exhibit characteristics indicative of an Aspie: delayed motor skills, inability to pick up social cues, narrow interests, lack of empathy, and many more.

My husband and I greeted Caleb’s diagnosis with mixed emotions: happy to finally have answers, sad that he’ll have a life full of challenges. The first two years after his diagnosis, we spent merely accepting the fact that our son was different. I really think we went through the stages of grief; we were grieving the life we envisioned and accepting the challenges that were to come.

Two years later, I can write this article without shedding a tear. I can tell a stranger my son has Asperger’s Syndrome and maintain composure. Getting to this place, has been a process and here’s what helped us make it through:

Falling on our Knees

Prayer has been my lifeboat. I read this quote from Charles Stanley, “Often times God demonstrates His faithfulness in adversity by providing for us what we need to survive. He does not change our painful circumstances. He sustains us through them.” I’ve never prayed for God to take away Caleb’s challenges, but I’ve prayed fervently that God would not give me more than I can handle, and equip me for what He’d given us. I can honestly say He’s answered my prayers and sustained me during periods where my strength was lacking.

Relishing in the Support of Friends and Family

We’ve been extremely blessed to have friends and family members that did everything in their power to support us. My mother has been my listening ear and sounding board for so many challenges I’ve faced. I also have a wonderful friend who’s a whiz at research; she’s sent me a wealth of information on the subject. From the beginning, she’d say, “I’m on Team Caleb.” I felt blessed to have someone like her on the team. These two individuals are not alone; we’re blessed by the “village” that’s surrounded us with love and support.

Finding Mothers in Similar Situations

Alone and misunderstood. There are two words I definitely used a lot during those first two years. As much as people tried to help, Caleb was a mystery. By word of mouth, I began to connect with other Aspie moms. Pretty soon, we started a support group. Our monthly meetings have been invaluable to me. We give advice and provide support like only mothers in the same situation can.

Finding an Outlet for my Emotions

The last couple of years have been a challenge. I was wrestling with my emotions on the diagnosis, while dealing with the daily challenges of raising an Aspie child. Many a nights, I would end the evening with raging emotions. So, I started a blog. It’s amazing, once the emotions came pouring onto the keys, my sanity revived. I needed an outlet, and my electronic confessional fit the bill.

Two years later, life is not without challenges but we’re in a place of acceptance and peace. God gave us the child that was perfectly made for us. We relish our time, and pray every day that we’ll be the parents he needs. We’re blessed to have a child that’s changed us for the better, and taught us that although life is different than expected it can still be good.

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