My youngest son, Andrew, has an autism spectrum disorder. Many of you know what this means to our family, but for my new readers...I will explain a bit.
Andrew is incredibly "high functioning". He is in a mainstream classroom with the assistance of a full time aide. He reads and writes and does math. He leaves the classroom for occupational therapy, speech therapy (because while his language is sophisticated, in comparison to other children his age, you cannot have a conversation with him), he is part of a social skills program and he uses the nurses office to go to the bathroom (and has only been potty trained for 6 months).
He is the sweetest boy you will ever meet. He is polite and has exceptional manners. He makes friends wherever we go. In fact, we walk to the local coffee shop every morning and there is an entourage of people waiting for him - mostly elderly folks who enjoy seeing his smiling face.
Andrew is black and white. He follows rules because it is what he knows to do. He will tell you the rules if he feels you are breaking them. He is blunt and abrupt and often causes me embarrassment in public. He does not understand broken promises or changes in routine.
And this is where my story starts....
Weekends tend to be hell in our home. Andrew is off his routine and he does NOT like it. He doesn't even realize why he is angry or why he is acting out but dad and I sure do!
Sunday was one of the worst days we have had in a very long time. He was driving everyone in the house crazy. He was in and out of the fridge. He was mouthy. He was hitting...he was off his routine. And I was exhausted (having not gotten to bed until 3:30am as I was volunteering at a local memorial walk doing massage until 2am).
At around noon I had finally had enough. It was a gorgeous day (but we didn't have any plans as my older son, Zachary, was sick). I grabbed the camera and I grabbed Andrew and we went for a "nature walk".
Getting out of the house was hell. He was insistent on bringing his "monster truck" and I was insistent that he was not bringing said monster truck. He stomped down the stairs, he screamed at me, he growled...and we walked.
We went downtown to window shop. We went to the docks to see the fire boat, we took some gorgeous pictures:
And then we made our way to the walking path (much to Andrew's dismay). The walking path in town is one of my favorite places in the world. It is a path that was created where the railroad tracks used to run into town. It runs by 3 different lakes, you see wildlife and mountain tops, it's quiet and peaceful...it also runs rather close to a playground and Andrew wanted no part of walking he wanted the playground.
We weren't going to the playground - we were going for a walk. Andrew had other plans. He took off on me 3 times trying to get to the park. Yesterday I explained that I had been running...today you understand why. I HAVE to run so I can keep up with my little escape artist.
I feel I need to stop here and explain why I don't take Andrew to the playground. I am not an awful mother - I'm just a mother of a child who has ASD. A playground often just exacerbates his symptoms. He gets overwhelmed and wired and when it is time to leave we have meltdown after meltdown and the "angry" mood I was trying to get rid of has just intensified.
I explained to him (as I have in the past) that if he is angry and outside he can stomp his feet and yell. He did. I slowly watched my loving boy making his way back...
We sat down on a bench and I tried to take some pictures of him looking into the camera. These pictures were taken one after another (and there are about a dozen on my computer that look exactly the same) and will give you a pretty good idea about Andrew's attention span and inability to "look me in the eye":
This is as close as we get to "looking at the camera". And even still he eyes are squinting because he, literally, does not have the ability to look me "in the eye".
As we walked I watched him quiet himself. He started to be able to see what was going on around him. He started to come back to me.
The path we were taking is only 1/2 mile, at which point you can either take the road into town (and back to our home) or continue on the path past more lakes and through more woods. I knew that Andrew would only tolerate so much walking (and this short time had already taken us nearly an hour).
Andrew has recently joined Cub Scouts and needed to gather leaves for a project. He LOVED gathering leaves but has a hard time not leaving without all of them. Here he is gathering a "bouquet". I was amazed at the distance I could travel from him without him sprinting in another direction. He truly was calming....
We continued onto the road and meandered to our home. He stopped and looked at more leaves and bugs and looked for landmarks that he walks past regularly. On the way I tried to remind him how his behavior and his mood had changed during our walk.
"Andrew, when we left the house before our walk how did you feel?"
"Mad and sad."
"What kind of words were you using?"
"Yeah....and how do you feel now?"
"And what kind of words are you going to use when we get home?"
And he gave me a great big hug.
The best part of this was that not only did I notice and his father notice (when we got home) but HE noticed. It was truly and eye opening day.
Now, what the hell am I going to do when winter comes?