What we have

Living with Tad is kind of like taking a long walk through a jungle.  Sometimes, there’s a nice path, and you can follow it for a little while and everything is fine.  Then you round a bend, and THERE’S A TIGER!!  RUN, NOW!!

And then things calm down – LOOK OUT FOR THE QUICKSAND!

And just when you think you’ve got a handle on him – SNAKE!!!

And, of course, there’s the ever-present fact that you are walking through a jungle and who in their right mind would be trying to walk through a jungle???

So like I said, life with Tad is full of pitfalls and dangers, punctuated by easy moments of sweetness and charm and happy times.  And sometimes the sweet moments are fewer and father apart, and then it does seem like the autism jungle is simply out to eat you.  Danger lurks around every corner.  There will be no peaceful moments… because Tad is bugging his sister, climbing up on the ironing board, shoving over his baby brother for having the temerity to touch one of his shark toys, whining for more TV, never shutting up about the TV he has watched, and refusing to eat food that was perfectly fine to eat yesterday.

Sometimes the jungle gets very dark in those moments, and then you wonder why you are even bothering with trying to tame this wild creature that you are leading through the jungle.  Good grief, just let him watch shark documentaries until his eyes fall out and eat peanut butter for every meal!  Is all this aggravation and fighting worth it?

And then I try to remember that other people are walking through far more difficult jungles with their kids.

I volunteer once a week in Tad’s class, during their weekly swimming lesson.  But the Webmaster had never seen the class in action – he’d only been there on curriculum night with the other parents to meet the teacher and paraeducators and talk about the program.  Right before Christmas vacation, Tad’s class and their peer-model kindergarten class next door held a “Friendly Feast” celebration and had a small party together.  Parents were welcome to come, and since it conflicted with the day I usually volunteer in Ane’s class, I twisted the Webmaster’s arm and made him go.  I wanted him to see this class during the school day at least once before he got a new job.

He came back from the Friendly Feast sober and thoughtful, and we later talked over our feelings and impressions of the class.

There is little doubt that Tad is one of the – if not the most –  high-functioning kids in the class.  Even the other mild autistic kids are not at the same level as Tad.  Since that party, Tad has started joining the peer-model kindergarten class for snack time and some play time every day.  So far, things are going really well.  He’s listening to the other teacher (who, in my estimation, is a professional kindergarten expert – you can really tell that this is the age group she loves best and is completely committed to) and getting along with the other students.

The students in Tad’s CLC class are a mixed bag – some are autistic (ranging from high functioning to profoundly severe), others have medical conditions which have resulted in brain damage or developmental delays.  There are 8 kids in the class – 7 kindergarteners and one 2nd grader.  Conrad, the 2nd grader, is severely autistic.  He is completely non-verbal and shut off in his own world.  I have never seen him willingly interact with anyone – the teachers, speech therapists, and paraeducators literally have to get in his face to get any kind of response from him.  They keep him on a tight, predictable schedule, trying with unfailing patience to draw him out.  But the only time I’ve ever seen a positive emotion from him is in the pool.  But even there, he has no self-control and has to be constantly monitored so he won’t be a danger to others or himself.

It is Conrad who keeps me honest about my own walk through the jungle with Tad.

Tad is a handful.  He can push my buttons so easily.  He can be whiny, demanding, stubborn, pushy, and he can embarrass the life out of me with astonishing ease.

And yet, I know that Conrad’s parents would gladly kill small animals with their bare hands to get their son to where Tad is now.

Tad can tell me what kind of ice cream he likes best (chocolate).  We can watch Star Wars movies together and enjoy them.  I can give him a present – like a shark sweatshirt – and see his excitement.  We can play together – be it Legos or putting a puzzle together or playing Cariboo.  He wants me to read him stories and kiss him good night.  Tad spontaneously hugs me and tells me he loves me.

What would Conrad’s mother give to hear “I love you, Mama” come out of her son’s mouth?

I hear it every day, and then I have the audacity to curse the jungle for not giving me an easier path to walk.  Or even cry out to God and ask why this isn’t easier for ME?

It’s not about me.

I am walking through the jungle with my wild boy, and I’m doing it because I love him.  And that should be enough.

The fact that even in the dark moments, he can say “I love you” back… is more than enough.

And I cling to the hope and promise that he will continue to mature, and grow, and learn more… and our walk together will get even easier.

But I will still remember Conrad… and count my blessings each and every day.

One Response to “What we have”

  1. Nana
    January 20th, 2011 08:08

    Keep walking! Tad has been blessed with parents like you. And someday you’ll see the crooked paths have become straight.