Thank You To the Friends Who Have My Son’s Back

Having friends who support me is wonderful. 

But having friends who support my son with autism is invaluable.

I’m not hard to like. I’m not bragging. Honest! What I mean is, I generally don’t like conflict and want everyone to get along. I’m the person in the group who likes to laugh and tends to look on the bright side. I’m the person who makes sure everyone is included. Even as a child, if I saw a quiet kid in the corner, I’d go out of my way to ask them to join our group. 

My son? Well, he’s a different sort of beast. I love him endlessly and, being his mother, I get his affection most often. But he can be a lot to handle. Having autism, he struggles to see other’s perspectives and can be singularly focused. He assumes if he is passionate about something, you must be too. He’s fiercely competitive and painstakingly hard on himself and others. As a sensory seeker, he physicalizes his emotions, sometimes pushing and shoving (conversely, also giving the greatest bear hugs).

In short, he can be hard to like. Don’t get me wrong. He has friends. He can be a lot of fun. He has a big presence that many kids are drawn to, but that same big presence can be scary if it’s misdirected and misunderstood. 

He needs adults in his corner to help him navigate the social world, adults who support and appreciate him. As his school case coordinator told me recently, “He just needs to know there is always an adult in the building who believes in him.” 

She and I are on a hugging basis now. 

I realize how blessed I am to have a tribe of adults who genuinely love and support my son. A friend of his is a friend of mine.

Not all the adults in his life are supportive though. Some are naive and downright mean. My son has been shouted at, talked down to, and warned against socializing with to his peers. There are those who still believe it’s okay to be exclusive if a person doesn’t fit their ideal. 

But there are so many who don’t prescribe to that “mean girl” mentality. And that’s who this post celebrates. 

Case in point: this past Halloween, I received a call from my son’s school informing me that he was feeling sick. He was overwhelmed by the chaos of the day and knew, intuitively, the party and costume parade were going to be too much. He also revealed to me that the face paint on his peers’ faces made him feel nauseous. He literally couldn’t stand to look at them. He has always had an aversion to face paint, but it was pronounced this season.

My stomach dropped. Our neighbor (who is quickly becoming one of my closest friends), her husband, and their two kids traditionally went trick or treating with us.

This year, both of them were wearing face paint.

I had to make a hard choice. Force my son to face his fears, knowing a meltdown would likely occur, or let my friend know we couldn’t trick or treat with them this year, at the risk of hurting her feelings and our friendship. 

I chose to tell her the situation, and she couldn’t have been more supportive. She let me know it was okay and that I shouldn’t feel bad at all. In fact, she inquired about him throughout the day to make sure he was feeling alright and still having a fun Halloween.

This might seem like a small moment, but it holds a big place in my heart. 

My son had a great night because of a friend who had my back and my son’s back as well.

So thank you. I am fortunate to have quite a handful of people who support and genuinely love my son, and I don’t thank you enough. 

And to those of you reading this who have children with special needs, I hope that you have at least one friend who is a champion for your child as well.  

If not, I’m available. 

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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When Your Child Says He Wants to Die

He’s seven. He stomps down the steps of the school bus carrying an elaborate Styrofoam leprechaun trap. The bright sun and blue skies are in stark contrast to his moody face. His eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, then he drops the Styrofoam contraption. He rears his head back, throws his small body into a nearby parking lot space and begins to howl.

Meltdown mode.

I’m used to meltdowns. My son has been having them since he was thirteen months old. Years of practice have made me an expert at identifying his triggers to prevent the meltdown altogether or waiting him out until his flailing-limbs storm can pass.

This time, his meltdown is the result of frustration at breaking one of his styrofoam cups while getting on to the bus. He is a perfectionist and incredibly hard on himself (inherited traits) and after putting hours into this elaborate trap (truth be to told, it was pretty cool), having it get damaged was simply unacceptable.

As I try to calm him down with soothing tones, I am also calculating how much time I have before a car pulls into the exact parking space he is flailing in. With a sense of urgency, I scoop him up, set him into our car, close the door, then take a very long breath before I join him in the backseat. I sit. I wait. After about twenty minutes, he is ready to listen and ready to talk and we continue on with our day.

As I said, I’m used to meltdowns. What I haven’t grown used to are his piercing words.

“Just kill me! Please! I want to die!”

I’ve heard these words before.

He was five the first time he told me wanted to die.

This is not “normal” for neurotypical kids. I found that out rather quickly when I asked friends if their own children had ever said this.

A resounding no, followed by incredulous looks.

Nothing can prepare you for these scary words coming from the mouth of someone you would gladly give your own life for.

My mother’s intuition assures me he doesn’t literally mean what he is saying, but the small speck of doubt prompts me to seek help. My son’s life isn’t something I am willing to take lightly.

We are fortunate enough to live near a reputable pediatric psychologist who specializes in neurodevelopmental diagnoses. He is someone our son truly enjoys talking to (that, and playing with the amazing arcade in the waiting room chock full of classic video games).

After the “leprechaun trap meltdown” (which failed to catch a leprechaun, but succeeded in capturing a few dropped coins from the leprechaun’s pocket), I find myself sitting in this psychologist’s office, sharing the story with him, worry etched on my face.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he says, “That’s very common in ASD kids. When they say they want to die, it means they’re sad. When they say they want you to kill them, it means they’re very uncomfortable and need a break.”

Speechless. An audible sigh of relief. “Can I get you to write that down?”

He continues. “Kids with ASD feel emotions on such a strong level that they are quick to react, both verbally and non verbally, and often in inappropriate, scary ways. The goal for you is to teach him to say the words that convey what he really wants. Teach him to say, ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I need some space because I’m angry.’ It’s not easy, but it can be taught.”

I am silent for a moment.

“Okay.”

I give my son an extra big hug that day (I want to give his doctor one too, but I settle for a smile and a thank you), renewed with the knowledge that he is going to be okay. That while we we are working through another autism milestone, we are not working through it alone.

I share this story with you in hopes it will provide you with some relief. Relief that if your son or daughter has said these scary words, that they are going to be okay too.

I also want to remind you to always trust your parental instinct, but don’t be afraid to have it affirmed by trained professionals, especially when the concern could be life-threatening. Share your fears with someone else so you don’t have to carry the burden of worry alone. Peace of mind is a beautiful gift.

Okay. Time to go give my little man another big hug.

SensoryBlogHopNew

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!

Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!