Today, sick with some combination hay fever/cold, I sat on the couch and yelled at my Autistic 9-year-old who was on his third hour of separating laundry. He tells me sorry, picks up another item of clothing, obviously wanting to please, but proceeds to wander around the living room making gun noises and shooting pretend bad guys instead of dropping the item into its proper pile. I yell again. Two hours later, he is just barely finishing up his chore and socks and dryer sheets litter the floor.
“Why can’t you just focus on your chores and get the work done?” I yell. I’m frustrated, I’m tired, and I’m sick.
He cries and tells me that he doesn’t want to have to do work, and he wants time to have fun. Well, I’m old fashioned, and that doesn’t fly with me. All my children have chores, and they always will. I hug him and tell him for the umpteenth time that work will always be a part of his life, that he needs to learn how to do it now, etc, etc, etc. The conversation doesn’t bear repeating because if you’re reading this blog, odds are you’ve had the same conversation with your kid.
But as I gaze into his beet-red eyes that are spilling over with tears, I’m tempted to relent. Not because I don’t want to hear him complaining or crying anymore, but because I see the effort it takes for him stay on task. I see the confusion on his face when I give directions. I feel the frustration as he struggles to comprehend simple commands. Even worse, I see the anguish when he fails, and his intense desire to please. And then my heart breaks into pieces as I have to tell him to do it anyway. It breaks further when I have to show him or tell him for the one-hundredth time how to do the job correctly. It shatters more when his little brother steps in to show him that he can do it right.
And then I realize that the puzzle ribbon representative of Autism Awareness is less applicable to the affected individual than the loved ones who watch them struggle. My heart shatters into a million puzzle-shaped pieces when I see him work twice as hard to make friends, do school work, and complete tasks. I am conflicted in a million different ways on how to best help him. I am constantly second guessing my parenting skills when it comes to disciplining and guiding him. I want to make it easy, and I want to make it hard. I struggle daily trying to explain things to him in a way he will understand. I don’t know whether to discipline him or try to explain things again. There is simply no way for me to fit the pieces of the Autism parenting puzzle together perfectly.
Yes, he is Autistic. As such, he can be so hard to manage. He has breakdowns, meltdowns, anger issues, ADHD, is depressive, and anxious. He can make me want to pull out my hair and run away on bad days. Yet, he is always so full of love. He is eager to please, even if he doesn’t always get it right. He may not be able to understand or read emotional context clues but if you tell him you’re having a bad day, by God, he’ll love on you. He is the sweetest kid you’ll ever meet.
I know what the puzzle ribbon is supposed to represent: “Until all the pieces fit.” But the pieces of his heart have always fit together more perfectly than most people I know. While mine shatters daily. So, when you wear that heart shaped puzzle ribbon on April 2nd, remember the moms and dads out there trying to fit their pieces together, too.