Susan's Blog

Monday, January 30, 2006

What’s Worse? Autistic, Adolescent, or Annoying?

It is interesting and comforting in a bitterly ironic way that Max’s evolution into a teenager should teach me so much about autism and Nat. Way back when, I was closest to Max emotionally than any of my children. He came along two years after Nat, and I felt our connection immediately, unlike the connection I felt with Nat, which was fleeting and uncertain until he/I was older. Max’s wiring and personality have always made it easier for me to understand him. We were always close.

Until now. Thirteen rears its ugly head (although he is an extremely beautiful specimen of thirteen, having none of the gawkiness and little acne; being around 6’2″, blond, and confident, he resembles sixteen or seventeen more in appearance and demeanor — until his broccoli touches his pasta, and then you see the little boy in there). Suddenly I have two, make that three, boys who for one reason or another, don’t talk to me.

Benj is seven, and just luscious, like a rose, but you can’t get too close because of the thorns. He gets angry so easily when you don’t understand what he’s referring to; he goes from laughing to crying in two seconds, and then he blames you for making him cry. He has an odd understanding of words; in some ways, his use of language is very advanced (he said to me yesterday, “Mom, you are such a stickler for words.” And he had used it in the correct context!). In other ways, his use of language is odd/unconventional/incorrect; (for example, he’ll say, “What the gosh…?”). As I’ve said before, perhaps a little affected by the autism spectrum. Time will tell just how the spectrum will expand or detract from Benji.

In Ben I usually imagine the autism spectrum as being like the color spectrum: a prism of beautiful light bending, cascading through him and emanating from him in the form of his breathtaking art and his amusing, strange way of expressing himself verbally. In Nat, however, I have most often imagined the autism spectrum as more of a blackness that comes over him, and steals his ability to articulate and to remember words. “F>>>ing autism,” I think to myself sometimes, like when I look down at my hand with the bloody nailmarks that match his fingers. When I see Ned in despair over the kind of father he is, because he feels worn out by Nat’s aggressions. When I see Max and Ben retreat further from their older brother because 1) they are afraid of him hurting them and 2) they have little they can say to or do with him.

It seems I can do less and less to change this fact. I long to get Max and Ben to relate to Nat, and I think Nat needs that, as well as Max and Ben. I am at a loss as to how to improve their relationships, given how volatile Nat has become lately. I am at a loss as to how to improve my relationship with all three of them. The fact is, all three of my boys are difficult to reach in one way or another. Autism had been the more obvious villain, but now it is increasingly clear that adolescence is a close second, and annoying personality traits/artistic temperament are right up there, too.

When I give my book talks, it is more and more interesting to me to see how easy it is for people to see only the autism as the tragedy in their lives. What my other two non-autistic sons have taught me is that if you just wait long enough, you realize that autism is only the first difficulty you’ve faced as a parent. It is both depressing and comforting, when you think about it.

1 comment

The quality of the relationships may vary from day to day, but the fact that you’re all there together experiencing it is of value and will lead to more connection in the future. People change, especially adolescents!!
I try to see a value both when things are working good and when they’re not working good —having one kid in residential and one at home—I agree that the tragedy does not always have to be tied to autism—Tragedy can be found in lots of things not entirely related to autism—separation-lack of connection—feelings of guilt—working long hours—wishing you could create a different environment.

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 12:34 pm