“Mommy, I have ADHD and Autism, right?”
“So it’s ok if I’m late to activities sometimes, because it’s hard for me to get organized.”
As usual, Michael was one step ahead of me, and now I had to think of how to answer this question without enabling him when maybe unintentionally I was partly responsible for this mindset.
“Yes, organization can be hard for you, and your brain works differently buddy. But you don’t get a free pass to be late to things because you have a different brain.”
“Oh, ok Mommy.”
This was how many of our conversations went these days. Michael and I were having quite a lot of conversations along this bent. When I made the decision to tell him about his autism when he asked me what autism was and did he have it at eight years old, I did not think I would be opening up a whole lot more than I thought at the time. Michael has been asking this version of the question since he was eight years old and trying at times, smart as he is, to use his different brain to catch a break. Dad and I have not been letting him do this though, as long as we see that he is legitimately able to cope. Now, I’m not saying that we do not try and avoid situations that could trigger a sensory overload and prepare for them. If long lines are forecast for future events, I plan to call ahead and mention Michael’s difficulty with that due to his autism and adhd, but this would not mean that I would tell him that he could get away with rudeness, aggression or disorganization in society. For Michael, sometimes the supports we have in place to help him understandably make him think he is totally different from other kids and different rules apply. But, as he gets older, we are reminding him that he is just as capable to be organized like others. He is smart, well mannered, and has strengths and weaknesses as kids do who do not have autism or different brains.
Dad and I also remind him that others know he struggles in certain areas and are there to help, not in pity but in support. Others understand he wants and deserves to be a part of any activity, job and societal event that he enjoys, but they are looking to him to show them how he needs to be treated and responded to. There are some who understand him, and others who still need to be enlightened. Above all, Dad and I are telling people around us how proud we are of how far Michael has gone and how much farther we know he’ll go. Kids with autism need the same amount of love, support, encouragement and gentle pushes to get out in the world, take risks, and learn from their mistakes. They also cannot have different life rules. They need to do their school work, participate in social exchanges in a calm and respectful way, and deserve friends who cherish them like the amazing people they are. This all comes with rules they must follow just like the rest of us.
So therein begins the gentle tightrope balancing act of some help (depending on the child and what they are), with expectations that they must meet in order to find their way in the world. Our kids can do this, all to a different degree of course, but as parents advocating for our child’s challenges and getting them to overcome them comes first. Then, it is showing the world their amazing uniqueness and what they could bring into society. Finally, it is showing our kids how to give back to the world so that they will see they are a part of something bigger. Until next time.