Susan's Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Autism and Happiness

Recently a friend with a young austistic child asked a simple but poignant question:

Is happiness really possible with autism around?

I just got back from the pool, watching Nat get anxious and try to hurt his dad, who was not fazed. Ned just made him get in the water and do his laps. “Put your face in!” He yelled. Nat put his face in. At the end of it, we clapped. Business as usual. I got to thinking how good we’ve gotten at this system, whereby we take Nat to things and get him to do what we need him to do, wrestling with his behaviors and his neurological discomforts and his impaired communication until we get to the eager but anxious boy inside.

I find I like plumbing the depths of Nat’s mind, trying to figure out what he wants and how to get him to relay it to me. Trying to keep him on my side. I like reading people, and Nat is the War and Peace of people; he is extremely complicated, and extremely simple and straightforward at the same time. He is pure Id, as well as being a complex person. You know what he’s thinking sometimes and other times, it is anyone’s guess. Why does he laugh when his little brother is mad? Is it nervousness? Is it a mixed up response? Is it just normal brotherly sadism? Each time, I try to assess the situation and act according to my best guess, instead of rotely trying to discourage the “behavior.” Sometimes I want to laugh, too, for all of the above. Humans are strange creatures, neurologically typical or not.

What I am getting at is that it really is possible to be happy and comfortable with autism around. It is about understanding what makes you happy, and about looking around at your actual life and teasing apart what is good, and doing more of that. What has made me happy was to do more things together as a family, so in order to achieve this, I had to figure out how to help Nat do things with us more easily. I was not out to change him or stop the autism, just to accomplish my goal of having more of a together-family life. It took awhile to get him accustomed to doing things with us, like vacations and restaurants and movies. He is swimming right now, as I write this, with Ned. He plays games, he goes on walks with us, he goes on errands. So much that I never thought would be possible, is possible. The pain lessens. New challenges arise, and we meet them; he is still very autistic. My two other sons are typically developing, but still challenge me in their own ways. Max won’t leave the computer. Ben is easily angered, hard on people. I worry about them in different ways. We want everything for our children, but we don’t get that. That is life. It is messy, it takes unexpected turns. It is not a Hallmark card. But it really, truly, is a gift and our kids are the biggest gifts, even though difficult!


Your optimism is lovely. I wonder if you have to deal with extremely challenging behaviors, like public tantrums and SIB’s and daily toileting mishaps? I do, and I find nothing happy about life on the spectrum. But it’s good of you to encourage others. – nsm

— added by Anonymous on Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:28 am

With my son, who is now 19, I sure have had more than my share of tantrums, SIBs and toileting mishaps. I wonder if you’ve taken a look at my book, Making Peace With Autism, which is a memoir of our family life and how we got to where we are, even with full-blown autism? Nat was expelled from a school program when he was 11 for tantrums; he still has them sometimes, as well as aggression towards others and SIBs. Toileting has been fine since he was five, but until then it was a difficult issue. Please hang on; I think you will figure out a way to find peace and happiness with your child exactly as he is.

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, January 26, 2009 at 10:22 am

My son is almost 8 and his is severely autistic and mentally disabled. He has full mutation Fragile X and autism. He is non-verbal and not toilet trained despite 5 years of intensive ABA and other therapies. He makes loud strange vocalizations much of the day and does nothing productive, preferring to flap paper in front of his face or throw books of shelves. If we leave the house, we have to hold his hand or he will run off and he has no safety awareness. I am grateful to have two typical sons. I loved both of your books. Do you think you would still have found happiness if your son had never been toilet trained and was even more severe? Does it get easier relating to all the other moms of typical children without resentment and sorrow?

— added by Anonymous on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Hi –
I thank you for your brave, honest questions. Yes, it gets easier relating to the other moms, that’s for certain, because there are definitely new levels of acceptance and peace we get to. I don’t know, about the other question you ask. I think I would still rejoice in his presence, and try to see his soul, his self. I think you can, too.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 6:54 pm

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