Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning Together

Learning is a life long quest that never ends.  After all, life would get quite boring without the chance to learn more.  Over the past few years we have felt like we were bumbling along and trying to figure out what works best for our son, who we now know has autism.  Discipline is one of the hardest issues for us.  Our son sees life differently than some.  To him life is about rules and regulations and it should support him in all ways.  We are trying to teach him that life is something we do.  Teaching him that life is about other people and the relationships we build with others is not an easy feat.  Last night on our drive to church, he told us that he doesn't really have any friends, that no one likes him and that his only friend is his iPod.  As a parent, these words can cut deep.  No parent wants their kid to feel this way, like he is alone in the world.  I just wanted to hold him and tell him that everything is going to be okay and whisk away all his troubles.  Instead, we took the opportunity to talk about relationships and how important they are.  Then we arrived at our destination and our discussion ended.  He didn't quite get the message.  He was already feeling down.  during the meeting(I found this out later), our son had some issues with kids in his class and with his sister.  After our meeting, our children came into the room where some of our friends were gathered.  I gave him an assignment to bring his sisters some water and one of them wouldn't take the water.  This is where things went awry. Our son was at the edge and came crashing down in front of all to see.  As a parent, this is very humiliating and frustrating.  We felt out of control and ashamed.  My husband took our children outside and I stayed a bit to help clean up and a friend started talking with me.  I am ever so thankful for that conversation.  I'm not even sure she saw the commotion or not, but that doesn't matter.  Someone was there to comfort, even though this person didn't realize they were doing so.  She took the time to talk about autism with me, not afraid to talk about it, and to encourage.  That was so needed!  Then the thought struck me.  Maybe our son needed it too.

We had already had the tough conversation with him about High Functioning Autism/ASD. because we knew the questions would come as he started going to Speech and Counseling at school.  We told him all the positive aspects and how amazing these things are and how it made him very special and quite the cool kid.  We told him that he just needed help with the relationship part of life(the social aspect).  When we finished our conversation with him we asked him what his thoughts and feelings were about what we had just told him.  His response was, "I love having Aspergers!  It means that I know for sure that I am going to be the best Engineer ever!"  He knew what Aspergers was so we compared his High Functioning Autism to Aspergers.  We couldn't have been more pleased at the outcome.  Over the last couple of weeks we have seen him go through some ups and downs.  He now knows why kids see/treat him differently and felt a sense of relief.  At the same time, he is feeling lost and unequipped, he doesn't say so, but the signs are there.  He doesn't know how to interact in the way everyone else does and acts on impulse rather than thinking things through.  So, this is where the learning process begins for him.  He is needing to learn how to engage people in the appropriate way.  How to speak respectfully to friends, family and adults.  He is learning how to control his emotions and what he needs to do rather than blow up.  Imagine burning your hand and then trying to change how you react to the burn.  Your instinct reaction to the burn may be to yell out in pain, maybe blurt out an expletive, slam your fist on the counter top, wave your hand through the air while jumping up and down, etc.  Now try to imagine changing that and instead of yelling out in pain, you need to calmly take a few breaths and take care of the burn only allowing the slightest of a whimper to escape your lips.  Our son's reaction is much of the same.  His instinctive reaction is to yell out, to want immediate action or justice in the situation rather than taking the necessary measures to remain calm and be socially acceptable.  Teaching him to think before reacting is not easy. 

Not only is our son learning through this process, but we are as well.  Even our reaction has to change.  Over reacting to our son's reaction only makes the boiling pot boil over.  Remaining cool, calm and collective is very difficult at times.  Last night was case in point.  My first instinct was to be angry, to take charge, to put him in his place and make him stop.  The appropriate thing to do was to remove him from the situation and calm him down by allowing him space to think things through. Talking to him now would only escalate the situation.  All he wanted was for us to tell his sister she was wrong.  We didn't give in to that, but got him calm, sent him to bed and was able to discuss it this morning and get the results that we needed.  He was calm and I was calm and we were able to talk about his reaction and disrespect.  I was able to encourage him in the process rather than tear him down.  We are learning to be patient.  I am not sure how we could do this without God and the relationships that God has put in our lives, the fact is, we can't.      

We are learning together.  Our son loves that we are learning together and that he is not doing this alone.  He has God, he has us, he has friends and people in his life to help him through the difficulties of life.  I shared with him that we all have things we have to learn, that he is no different than anyone else, that he is not perfect and will not attain perfection, but to God we are perfect in Him.  We don't have to prove anything to Him, we just need to listen to His still small voice and learn from Him.  And here I am once again, pondering what I had told our son.  I do not have to be perfect, I just need to listen to what God is telling me.  Slow down, be patient and listen to Him.  He is our instructor in life.  He gave us our son and has equipped us with the tools to raise him, just as He has for our girls. They all require different tools for different purposes. We just need to listen on how to use the tools appropriately.