“What’s wrong with me?” Tommy asked from the backseat of the car.
I chewed my lower lip. We had just finished up Tommy’s IEP meeting at his school and it’s never easy to hear that your kid has trouble learning. That he will most likely struggle his entire life.
“Nothing is wrong with you,” I assured my eight-year-old son who I noticed had issues from a young age. For one, he wasn’t talking like all the other two-year-olds. Then I’d notice that he’d do this thing where he walked back and forth over and over again, watching something from the corner of his eye (I would later discover that this was known as stemming.) Loud noises would freak him out and I’d get constant phone calls from his preschool teacher (“Tommy melted down when we had a fire alarm drill. I couldn’t calm him down for an hour.”) When other children would cry, Tommy would run over and squeeze them, as if trying to stop them from making a loud noise.
Now that he’s in third grade, he’s improved on a lot of those things. He doesn’t really stem and he’s developed coping mechanisms to deal with sudden noises. But still. There are a lot of things that he still has issues with.
“You remember what you have,” I prodded Tommy.
He sighed. “Aspergers which is a form of Autism. And I hate it.”
I stuck the keys in the ignition. “What do you hate about it?”
From the rearview mirror I watched Tommy pick at his nail. “I don’t want to be different.”
He’s at the age where he’s noticing that people are different from he is. He asks why everyone doesn’t go to the Resource Room. He wonders why he gets pulled from class to go over Social Situations. He doesn’t comprehend why he can’t play sports as easily as the other boys in PE. (That part could be because his mother is a klutz.)
I turned around in my seat and faced Tommy. He didn’t meet my eye. He struggles with eye contact which is one reason why he does Social Situations with the school counselor.
“You do know it’s okay to be different, right? If you were like everyone else, the world would be a boring place, don’t you think?” I said. I squeezed his knee and he allowed this. I’m grateful for the fact that he allows me to touch him. Some Autistic children shy away from touch.
“I know,” Tommy grumbled. He’s heard the speech many times before. “But it’s just not….fun.” He blinked his eyes rapidly and took deep breaths. He does this in order to prevent himself from crying. Tommy has always been sensitive and he’s beginning to learn that eight-year-old boys don’t get mercy from other children when they shed tears.
“You see the world differently from everyone else. And some day, Tommy, you’ll see the good in that,” I promised.
Tommy finally met my eye. “I guess so.”
I started the car as a bunch of thoughts danced around in my head. Would kids accept him? What would he be like as an adult? Would he ever get married? What if….and oh God, this is the selfish thought that somehow finds its way in my mind and I hate myself for even thinking it….what if he has to live with me forever? Would my own marriage be able to survive that? Divorce rates are high when an Autistic kid is in the mix.
As I drove home, the envelope containing all of Tommy’s IEP paperwork was in the corner of my eye. When I got pregnant, I had no idea that the baby I carried inside of me would need so much paperwork. It’s almost a foreign concept for me to have my other kid start school without any paperwork. The other day I almost asked when her IEP meeting would be.
When we got home and headed for the house, Tommy said, “Mom? Maybe looking at the world differently isn’t so bad.”
I swallowed and felt a lump in my throat. “It’s really not, Tommy. I’m glad you get that.”
“Can we have ice cream for dessert?” Tommy continued and for a second he was just like any typical third grader.
I smiled. “Of course we can have ice cream for dessert.”