Autism Mom Chapter 1
This chapter is about how Shirley Blaier-Stein learned new ways of thinking about autism.
autism mom Chapter 1 : New Ways of Thinking
One especially freezing Sunday morning in Connecticut, I found myself standing by the kitchen door, torn between my two children. Outside was Dan, my autistic six year old boy, and inside was Gali, my two year old baby girl.
Dan woke up at the crack of dawn and immediately started to cry loudly and hit his head with his hands. My husband Alex ran into his room. I didn’t know what was going on in there until I heard Alex scream “No!” and saw him coming out of there with his hand on his face. Dan had punched him in the eye.
I tried to stay calm. All this meant was that Dan was having a hard time, and needed our help. He never meant to hurt any of us. I went in there to find Dan crying in deep sorrow. To me it felt as though he knew he had done something wrong, but could not control himself.
I tried to help him by pressing on his arms and legs, the way Dan’s occupational therapist taught me. Deep pressure often helped him feel better. Three seconds into that, Dan punched me in my face too. Then he started spitting. My poor boy was out of control. Suddenly he stopped, stood up, and walked towards the hallway. I followed him downstairs, hoping he’d make his way into the kitchen. Eating usually helped. I would give him some breakfast, I thought. Alex followed us, carrying Gali in his arms. He got her settled in with her bottle and a DVD and joined us in the kitchen.
Dan was happy eating a Milano cookie. But when the three cookies that were left in the bag were gone, he returned to the same state he woke up in, completely disoriented.
“Awhaaaa haaaaaaaaaaa!” He screamed and flapped his arms around with no control, only ceasing from that to try and climb onto the kitchen counter.
Just then Alex’s phone rang. It was my stepson Tomer calling to be picked up from his sleepover at a friend’s house, a thirty minute drive away. ‘What can I do?’ said Alex’s eyes as he left me alone in the kitchen with Dan. I felt like the air got sucked out of the room.
I offered Dan other food items, but he just kept on crying and running around the kitchen, ignoring me completely.
He finally stopped, stood by the kitchen door and started banging on the glass part. “Do you want to go outside?” I did not really think I would get an answer, but he got quiet for a short moment. It was enough for me to know he meant yes. I ran upstairs as fast as I could, to get Dan’s clothes, almost tripping on the stairs, my heart racing. I got Dan dressed and he bolted out.
I decided to stay inside, by the door. I figured this way I could hear Gali and watch Dan at the same time. Our backyard was fenced, and if Dan tried to go to the street I would see him in time to catch him.
After a few seconds I heard him cry. He sounded so lonely in his pain. I had to be there for him. He wouldn’t let me hug him or even touch him that morning, but I had to be there anyway.
Luckily, all that Gali wanted at this point was a pink lollipop and to continue watching the video. I kissed her blond curls and tucked away the guilt of feeding my baby pure sugar instead of real food. I decided to feed her a healthy breakfast later, when this raging storm that took over Dan had ended.
I ran outside with just my pajamas and slippers on. I did not feel the cold. I was in such emotional turmoil, so many feelings storming inside of me. I was desperate to help Dan; angry that this is happening to him; and sorry for myself. I felt powerless.
Dan was sitting on the swing, tears coming down his cheeks, screaming out loud. He usually liked it when I pushed his feet so I tried that. The brown cold mud from the bottom of Dan’s blue boots stuck to my hands and got onto the front of my pajamas. I did not care. All I saw and all I heard at that moment was my boy in agony, and all I wanted was to help him. To find some magical way to relieve his suffering.
‘Help,’ I thought, ‘please help me. Help me and help my boy.’ I was not sure who I was “talking” to. I took a few steps towards my tree and placed my hands on its brownish- grayish-bumpy bark. This was a huge-old- strong oak that I always felt was guarding the property, watching over us. We would eat in its shade in the summer, run around it to play tag, hang Halloween decorations. Gali and I lay a blanket under it on Mother’s day and had a picnic. I stood there for a brief moment, absorbing the tree’s healing energy into me, and then I returned back to Dan at the swing.
Through Dan’s wailing, my crying and the pain I felt, I could picture my friend Marina coming to stand by my side. I could not think of anyone who could help me come out of this state, but another autism mom. And then, in my mind, all my other mom friends came too. They gathered around me silently, putting their calming hands on my shoulders and my back.
Then I thought about all the mothers around the world, facing the same difficulties that I do, every day. I thought about all the different languages those mothers must be speaking. And about how all of our kids experience the same challenge, “speak” the same language. All they must be saying is “This is so hard for me, Mommy, please be with me.” How these children are all united in some way. United, yet still fighting their way into our world.
I opened my eyes to me and Dan by ourselves, surrounded by the pure-white- snow in our back-yard. I felt a warm light coming from inside of me and then I knew that I was not alone. And Dan wasn’t alone either. I looked up at the top of the trees surrounding our backyard and I saw rays of sunshine coming through the naked branches. I looked down and I saw that Dan had stopped crying. He finally calmed down.
Was it the swing that did that? Was it the fact that my thoughts carried me to a calmer place? As soon as we both regained our peace I started to feel the cold. My feet were frozen and so were my hands. I looked down and saw the mud on my shirt. I looked up again, and I saw a smile on Dan’s face. That was all I needed. I didn’t mind being in the mud forever if I could see this smile.
I thought about how most of the time, at this point in my life, I felt like autism for me was no longer about ego. It was not about wanting my child to be like everyone else. I was not holding onto all the dreams that he will be a doctor or a lawyer. It was not that. It was about this suffering and pain. All I wanted was that he would not suffer. Was that too much to ask, to achieve happiness?
But then there was this “other” mom inside of me. The one who was not ready to give up just yet. The one who, every time he reaches a point of calmness, was trying to push further. To see what more she could do in order to teach him. So he would get ahead. This “other mom” wanted to achieve not only happiness, but also success.
Could there be a way to achieve both happiness and success in the face of autism?