Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Mind of the Parent

  Mike and I were embarking on a journey that we had never anticipated. When we were dating and later married, we had never discussed autism, much less how our lives would change if our family were ever affected by it. However, when you are young, and planning a life together, it really isn't something you talk about.
    I consider both Mike and myself to be  fairly easy-going people. My husband is actually one of the most laid-back guys I have ever known, and for us ,this has been a blessing. When it had first been determined that Mikey had autism, our minds were in fifty different places at once, but then things calmed down. That is not to say that we have not had difficult days, or trying moments,because we have had many. The beauty of our relationship is that when I become upset or stressed, he helps me regain my composure, and vice versa. If one of us loses sight of what is really important, the other helps to bring things back into perspective. I am ever so thankful that I have a partner on this journey, because many parents do not, and extra support can be critical at times.
   Once we made it through all of the doctors, teachers, therapists, and initial changes in our lives, we continued to move forward in a positive direction as a family. We still did all of the things we had done before. We traveled, we spent summers at the beach, we shopped, we celebrated milestones, and we spent weekends visiting zoos, aquariums,parks and museums. Yet,while all of these things remained the same, we
had forever changed.
   You see, once autism enters your life, there is no going back. While you carry on each day with your normal routine, it is still somehow in the back of your mind. This does not mean that we dwelled on it non-stop, but even when I wasn't thinking about it, it crept back into my mind. I looked at people differently, and perhaps had a better understanding of them, their moods, and their reality. I was able to spot a person affected by autism a mile away. I remember being in various situations where we encountered families who were obviously going through what we were, and as parents, we would immediately click with the other family, even if we were only strangers passing each other in a store. There is this sense that I have(and I think this may be true for many other parents who are in similar situations), and you glance at the other family, and they glance back, and you just get it....you understand it, and nothing more needs to be said.
   I also thought about all of the people I had known in my lifetime that were a little different or unique. The excessively shy kids at school, the people who invaded my personal space when speaking with me, the people who always managed to say the wrong thing, as if they had no filter. I thought about the people I had encountered that were never able to look me or anyone else in the eye, people with odd habits such as hair twirling, pacing, fiddling with their pencils, humming incessantly, and those who were socially awkward. I had known many people throughout my life that had characteristics of autism, and I had never realized it until it
became part of our lives. I now understood these people a bit better, and felt for them.
   I also started to look at our own families, their personalities, their lives , their ability to maintain or not be able to maintain relationships or jobs. The way the behaved in social situations, the hobbies they enjoyed, or their lack of hobbies,their habits and their behaviors. In essence, I started to evaluate all of these people and things in my own mind,whereas before Mikey, I would never really have given much thought to any of it.
    Perhaps the most important thing that was going through my mind at this point in time was understanding the importance of patience and tolerance. I had always been a very patient person, and I now considered that a special gift in my life. Patience was a must in our situation.However, I would always encounter people in stores and other places that were very quick to judge, and had a lack of tolerance for many,especially children. I have learned that the child throwing a tantrum in aisle 8 may not be a spoiled brat who needs a spanking. I have learned that the child who hits his/her parent in public may not be the undisciplined monster most onlookers would suspect, and I have learned that instead of staring at a mom or dad who is in the midst of some of these trials, it is more helpful to offer to help them by maybe moving their shopping cart out of the way, or even helping them to make a graceful exit out of a store.
    Many years ago my husband took Mikey to a local grocery store. After picking up a few things, Mikey started to lose his patience. As they were on line, he became more and more vocal, and although it was only a few minutes, for Mike, it seemed like an eternity. As they were exiting the store, a young,fresh cashier said out loud " thank God they are getting out of here." Mike stopped in his tracks, turned around and approached this cashier. He looked her in the eye,and loudly said " I hope that you never have to go through anything like this in your life...have a nice day!" I think it is fair to say that she indeed, looked quite foolish, with everyone now staring at her instead of Mikey. Perhaps that day she learned to be a bit more compassionate, and to have some tolerance and patience. I hope so.

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