The Denver Autism Wheel

Beautiful, strong, autistic

Posted on: September 13, 2010

Chris knows he has autism. He’s known almost as long as we have. I don’t think we spent much time worrying he’d use it as an excuse to be lazy in class. He had been receiving services as a “preschooler with a disability” since age 3, and it hadn’t occurred to him to milk it then…

Add to that the competitive nature of his NT younger brother (for whom being the younger brother always seemed like evidence of the Universe’s cruel sense of humor). He doesn’t much want to have autism because it complicates things and slows him down where it doesn’t slow down his peers (or his competitive younger brother).

So Chris knows his brain is different, that it processes information in a way that typical people’s brains don’t. That means it’s hard for him to follow conversations, stay focused in class and sometimes even finish a meal sitting down. He’s used to it. But it’s not so simple as accepting who you are and working to understand other people’s perspectives.

He seems to have gotten used to the idea that things can’t be as easy as they look. He’s used to not trusting his own judgment. He’s used to assuming that his first reaction to just about anything is going to be wrong or inappropriate. And that is a huge problem. How much self esteem and confidence can you have if everything you do turns out to be wrong, even if you’re right about something (read: “wrong about being wrong”)? That pop you just heard was the sound of my brain exploding. No wonder depression and anxiety are so common among individuals with autism!

And then something happens to make me realize just how powerful Chris’ brain is. I’ve mentioned before that he doesn’t lie very often because he is bad at it (no innate sense of what makes a lie plausible, and deficits in short term recall of who he told what make it pretty futile). Add to that his “tells.” Ask him to run lines from cartoons, and he’ll have you in stitches. He has the lines, voices and inflections down cold. Ask him to do times tables, and his nose plugs up. He actually starts having allergic reactions to schoolwork, including congestion, watery eyes, sneezing fits… Now, the mind is a powerful tool, and he does suffer from seasonal allergies, but I started to notice that they got exponentially worse as the homework got rigorous. Hmm.

So I did a little experiment. I mentioned to him that it seemed his allergies got worse when he had to do something he didn’t want to. He had no idea that’s what was happening, which I don’t doubt, but he’s also remarkably in tune with his own body. I tell him that he doesn’t have to sneeze, and if he stops, he’ll get a reward (nothing major, just wanted to see what would happen). Lo and behold, the sneezing stops like that [I’m snapping my fingers ;-)]. I wait. No sneezing. I wait a little while longer and then mention it to him. I remark that he hasn’t sneezed in quite a while, but his homework is about done. What a remarkable reaction: he was thrilled. Positively thrilled. He didn’t realize he could control his psychosomatic reactions. I don’t think he’d realized until just then that he had that decisive kind of control over his own mind and body.

I tell him there is nothing wrong with his brain. Yes, memorizing times tables takes longer for him than for classmates. Yes, he needs questions repeated. But he has a beautiful, perfect, powerful autistic brain in his head and can do anything he wants to if he wants it enough and works at it. I don’t think he put “beautiful,” “powerful” and “autistic” together until last night when he stopped his own sneezes.

It’s funny what it takes sometimes, but as one of his favorite Beatles, George Harrison, insists, “It’s all in the mind, ya know.” I hope it helps him find some more confidence in himself and his judgment. Like all moms, I know my kid can do whatever he wants to do if he puts his mind to it ❤

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