Perpetual Growth

I don’t believe in excuses. Instead, I believe in growth. There will never come a day when I will look in the mirror and say, “Way to go! You’ve grown as much as you can. There’s nothing more to do or to learn. Great job!” No matter how much we learn and grow there’s always more. And I, personally, don’t believe we can grow or reach our full potential when we mire ourselves in excuses.

There may be limitations that make it more difficult. For example, my sensory-seeking autistic son has a hard time keeping his hands to himself. He experiences the world through touch. His instinct is to touch whoever is close to him, whether he knows them or not, whether he’s gotten their approval or not. His form of autism also makes it difficult to understand social ques or situations like people having a “bubble” of personal space around them. However, I have not let him use this as an excuse. His teachers and I have been working very hard to help him understand that it’s not appropriate to touch people at school or when he’s in line at an amusement park or in the store, etc. It has been a huge challenge because of his autism, yet he’s getting better at it. He’s learning. He’s growing. Just like we all can.

Some people use mental illness as an excuse. I think there are certain behaviors or feelings that can be explained about mental illness, but there’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse, especially if that excuse hurts others. By not allowing myself excuses I have given myself room to grow. That doesn’t mean I grow every day or do better every single day, but I am trying, and I believe it has made a huge difference in how I approach each day and what I’m able to accomplish. Cutting excuses is the beginning of perpetual growth. It may be more difficult with mental illness or other “limitations” we have, but we can do it. I know we can.

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Miracles Haven’t Ceased

A couple of nights ago, during family scripture study, we were talking about miracles. We spoke about how miracles aren’t always big. Sometimes they are little. And they are all around us. Last night, I witnessed one of those miracles.

My nine-year-old wants to play basketball. His autistic brain makes it difficult. It’s not that people on the autism spectrum can’t do sports, but according to Dr. Sean Healy, “Many individuals with autism have lower fitness skills compared to other people. These skills include balance, body coordination, visual-motor control and other mobility skills.” (https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/autism-exercise-benefits) This definitely describes my son. He also very easily gets lost in his own head and has a hard time paying attention to what’s going on around him. I want him to be active and fit, so I’ve tried to encourage him to do swimming or track. I’ve told him how good I think he’d be at those things with how tall he is, with his long legs.

He wants to play basketball.

Last night he had what might be his last game of the season on his rec league. This is the third year he has played, and he’s never scored a point. I’m not sure he’s ever even tried to make a basket during a game before. Last night, while he was sitting out, I talked to him about how important it is to try. I pointed out that there were kids who shot the ball, and even though they didn’t make it, they had at least tried.

“Look,” I said, pointing out a kid on his team who had shot the ball several times, but had never made a basket. “Even though he missed it he keeps trying. And look how happy he is! He’s out there having a ton of fun.”

My son decided he wanted to make a basket. He was determined to make one. I told him he had to try. There were a couple of times, after he went back into the game, that he had a great opportunity, under the basket, to make a shot. But he hesitated and got blocked or had the ball stolen from him. I could tell he was becoming agitated and frustrated that he hadn’t made a basket. It was fourth quarter of what might be his final game of the season. Then a miracle happened.

The other team knocked the ball out of bounds. It was our ball on our side of the court. One of my son’s teammates threw the ball into him. And no one went to block him. No one. In fact, it seemed like no one knew what was going on. Everyone was just standing around as if there were no game happening. My ex and I yelled at our son to shoot the ball. Like usual, he hesitated. I was sure someone from the other team was going to come block him or one of his teammates was going to yell to him, which might only fluster him. But nothing happened. Everyone continued to stand around, doing nothing. My son was right under the basket with a wide-open shot. And finally—finally—he shot the ball. And it went in. He made the basket! He got the point!

It was a great night for my son. I consider what happened a miracle because he needed to get that point. He’s beginning to see that some other kids treat him differently because he is “different”. Kids walk away from him, they won’t play with him, they don’t know how to react to him and his autistic behaviors. It’s always been hard, as a mother, to see this, but it used to be easier because he didn’t notice. He got caught up in his own little world so easily that he didn’t notice the way others were treating him. He finally has noticed, and it’s heartbreaking. I do think his basketball team this year has been really great. It is full of good kids who are friendly and mostly understanding of him. But previous years kids wouldn’t pass him the ball or include him. He can look back now and see that. And it hurts him. So the fact that he actually did something good and made that point was so needed. So needed. I do truly consider it a miracle. I do feel like God was watching out for my son and showing him that He is aware of him and his struggles. He is aware and He loves him.

What miracles have you seen around you lately?

It’s Not Always That Simple

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I really liked this article about how it may not be as simple as “just wear a mask”. I think a simple life is a good life, but things within life aren’t always simple.

I never thought I had claustrophobia. I’m still not sure whether I do or not. I do know that most of my adult life I have had an incredible fear of something—anything—covering my face. It’s something that triggers my anxiety. Even just thinking about wearing a mask is terrifying for me. Some time ago, I decided to practice. Sounds stupid, right? But I thought maybe if I practiced I’d eventually be able to wear one. I didn’t have the mask on my face for more than five seconds before I started panicking, hyperventilating and feeling like I was going to die, so I ripped it off.

My autistic son also struggles to wear a mask. He did wear one at outdoor capoeira recently, but refused to have it up above his nose. I know that’s not the proper way to wear one, but it was all he could do.

So again, during this time, I urge kindness and understanding. Understanding that, for some, it’s not as simple as just wearing a mask and kindness for people who are struggling in all ways during this time.

Extending Mercy

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I’m deviating from my usual topic of mental illness today. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. Today I’m going to talk about autism and extending mercy.

Awhile back I saw a Facebook vent from a person annoyed about parents not keeping their kids away or from touching other people when in line at an amusement park. My heart hurt as I read this post—because my kid has been one of those kids this person was so annoyed at and venting about.

Yeah, I’ve gotten those looks before—at the grocery store, restaurants, a waterpark, and amusement park, as my son gets too close to or touches the person or people in front of him. The look that shows their annoyance. The look that shows what an ill-behaved kid they think my son is. The look that shows what a bad mom they’re judging me to be by not teaching my kid better.

What these people don’t know is that my kid has a sensory seeking form of autism. His natural instinct is to be close—very physically close—to whoever is by him. As hard as I have tried to teach him about personal space, that people have “bubbles”, it just doesn’t click in his mind. His “normal” is touching people. He needs to touch people.

The people who give me those looks just see a bad kid and a bad mom. What they don’t see are the hours and hours of testing we went through to get a diagnosis. What they don’t see is the heartache of being told that my son, who I love more than the world itself, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. They don’t see all the tears that have been shed thinking of what this means. They don’t see the agony of trying to help, trying to teach, him to go against his instinct because of all the people who will judge and not understand. What they don’t see is all the time, energy, love, frustration, determination, hope, hopelessness, difficulty, uncertainty, failure and success my son and I have been through with ASD. They just see a bad kid and a bad mom. But you don’t have to.

The next time you get annoyed or are about to pass judgement, extend mercy, instead. Realize that you probably don’t know the whole story—the way I don’t know your whole story. I get that it can be annoying to have some strange kid standing so close to you that he touches you. But before giving that look, please, please extend mercy—the way you would hope to have it extended to you.

Scared

Last night I went to bed depressed and in tears. We’re working on getting my son an official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He’s been through a bunch of testing, my ex and I filled out a questionnaire together and yesterday the Occupational Therapist sent an email with a summary of everything so far. It was a lot to take in. I felt so overwhelmed. And so inadequate.

As I lay there in bed I was hit with this realization. It’s so obvious, but thus far I haven’t been thinking much about the future, just about now. The realization was that my son will always be autistic. It’s not something that can be taken away. It’s not something that can be changed. With that thought came all these questions about how it’s going to affect his life, not just now, but years and years into the future. And of course, it made me wonder how, or if, I’ll be able to help him.

Luckily, my ex and I are pretty good co-parents. At least I think we are. But I still feel so overwhelmed, so inadequate and alone to be doing this as a single mom. As a single mom who deals with anxiety and depression daily. I don’t mean to complain. I am grateful for my blessings—they are many. I’m just scared. For my son, and for me.

The Greatest Blessing

One thing I always hoped was that if/when I had kids they would never have to suffer from mental illness the way I did/have. So when my daughter started exhibiting signs of anxiety when she was only eight my heart hurt so much. I knew what was possibly in store for her. People said she was lucky because she had me, and I could help, but I don’t know what it’s like to have anxiety as an eight-year-old. I don’t know what it’s like to help an eight-year-old who has anxiety. Luckily, it hasn’t been too debilitating for her. She has a lot of fear and I’ve seen her have full-blown panic attacks, but it doesn’t interfere with her every-day life as much as it could. At least not that I’ve seen. Of course, who knows what will happen in the future?

As a parent it’s always hard—probably the hardest thing in the world—to watch your child struggle. Almost a year ago, after a bunch of testing, I was told that my son (six at the time, now seven) was borderline on the autism spectrum. I had wondered, but there were certain traits he had that seemed to conflict with autism, so I simply hoped for the best. However, there are a lot of stereotypes out there about Autism Spectrum Disorder, just like there are about mental illness, and I’ve since learned that those traits of his do fall within the envelope of ASD. My son is incredibly smart, so I don’t worry about him academically, but socially he has so many problems. Whenever I ask him about who he plays with at recess he usually tells me that he plays alone. He doesn’t seem to notice or care—he’s used to going into his own world. But it breaks my heart. I’m sure kids look at him and see that he’s not “normal.” They make assumptions, not really knowing or understanding why he is the way he is. They make assumptions about who is and what he’ll do, not knowing that he really isn’t that way. Truth be told, he’s smart, energetic (maybe a little too much!) and so extremely loving. The other night, he slipped this note he wrote me under my bathroom door as I was getting ready for bed.

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I know some people don’t want to bring children into this crazy world of ours, but children are amazing and strong and resilient. And my children are the greatest blessing God has ever bestowed on me. All I can do is pray that I’ll be able to help them and love them in the way they need. All I can do is hope that they learn and grow and become more from their struggles the way I have with mine.