Autism

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age.

It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once there (if she didn’t get sidetracked beforehand with a migraine from the stress) she would settle herself in and talk and talk and talk and talk. To an outsider it would look as though she was an extrovert, quite comfortable in her surroundings. But if you were to listen in you would overhear her saying things that others wouldn’t have said. Sharing deep personal information with virtual strangers. Making a blunt observation about someone – a comment that others might think but would not have uttered. We joked often about her not having a filter between her brain and mouth.

She also had strong likes and dislikes. She HATED the colour green. She HATED the coffee from McDonald’s. Don’t even get her started on Rich’s creamer. Crowds were overwhelming for her so she stayed home many times while my dad would take us to the Toronto Santa Claus parade and other exhausting but exciting venues as children.

It wasn’t until I became a mother to a son who exhibited many of the same characteristics that I began to see my mother in a new light. I began to understand and appreciate the lengths my mother went to try to overcome the challenges she faced in her life. It was important to her that I not feel as socially awkward and isolated as she had as a child. She signed me up for Brownies and when I began to balk at going, getting migraines from working myself up with worry, she put aside her own anxieties and became a Brownie leader. Of course I didn’t understand then how hard that must have been for her. To this day, those Girl Guide outings and camps are some of my best memories. I became so comfortable going that I moved on to Guides and my mother was able to fade into the distance.

During first grade I began to experience stomach aches and frequent headaches. My parents took me to the doctor, had my eyes checked and it was determined that these symptoms were due to stress. I was stressed – I remember being worried all the time that I was doing something wrong or was going to get in to trouble. I had this free floating anxiety for much of my life – not really being able to pinpoint what I was worried about. I told my mother I was afraid of failing. She spoke with my teacher and nothing could have been further from the truth but through that discussion it was decided it might help me if my mother had more of a presence at the school. So once again my mother offered to volunteer and she began to help out in the school library. It must have helped having her close by because all of the “symptoms” began to fade away.

How hard that must have been for my mother to put herself out there. But how devoted she was to me. That makes me tear up today. We are pretty sure, having gone through the assessment process for Corbin that my mother likely has Asperger’s as well. To think that she repeatedly pushed through her anxiety and other difficulties in her attempts to help me is an amazing testament to her devotion. I know she often berates herself for not being a better mother. But when I am faced with the most difficult times for Corbin I think back to the sacrifices my mother made for me. When I feel like I cannot possibly fight one more fight for Corbin I am bolstered by all that my mother did for me. He deserves no less – a lesson my mother taught me.

Update 8 years later – In 2013 my mother was indeed diagnosed with Asperger’s. While it doesn’t change who she is it certainly answered a lot of questions that everyone had, in particular hers.  I am re-posting this here to reaffirm for her that I do understand and appreciate the mother that she has been to me. 

May 13, 2018

Lessons From My Mother

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age. It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once […]
April 2, 2018

An Awareness Day

When I look at my son, when I watch him when he doesn’t know I am watching I see friendly kind thoughtful sensitive inquisitive smart outgoing creative talkative agile For all these reasons and so many more Take the time to get to know my son, who will always be my boy even though he is a man. Do yourself a favour and speak to him a while . . . it will change your life like it has mine. The fact that he has Autism, Bipolar Disorder or an Intellectual Disability does not define him. Diagnosis do not define him – these qualities listed here and many more – those help define him. Take the time to get to know my son for […]
August 4, 2017

A broken ankle and a broken system

Just recently my oldest son was injured playing soccer and required hospitalization. He injured himself playing on the Special Stars team for individuals with Autism. I only tell you this as it plays a key part in the story. Otherwise it wouldn’t matter what type of league it was. But for this story it does matter. When the ambulance attendants came (after almost 2 hours – totally a different story) they asked about medications and medical conditions. I told them all his medications and that he has Autism, Intellectual disability and Bipolar disorder. He has more but these seemed key to the circumstances. Even as I said Intellectual disability I felt guilty – I hate the term, it used to […]
July 26, 2017

Terms of Endearment

On Sundays Corbin plays soccer in a league for kids with Autism (it goes against my belief of inclusion but sometimes he needs to decide for himself). This past Sunday we went to the states to do some shopping and we were happy with our purchases but pretty tired. We contemplated letting Corbin skip the game but he takes his commitment seriously and we don’t want to discourage that in any way. The plan was that I would take him to soccer and stop at Little Caesar’s on the way home. We were at soccer, it’s an indoor field, and the way the benches are you can’t see the other end of the field unless you lean way out. So it’s […]
April 18, 2016

Reconciling Autism

The first three and a half years of my son’s life was utter turmoil. Then we adopted him and gave him a stable home and the next seven years were spent going from doctor to doctor; professional to professional. Along the way we gathered diagnosis – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Tourette Syndrome (TS); Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); Intermittent Explosive Disorder; Sensory Integration Disorder (SID); Learning disabilities (LD) and held them tight as we researched them and received varied amounts of treatment for each.  However, even after all of these diagnoses, it still felt like we had missed something.  I tried to talk myself out of it – telling myself “enough is enough, now you are just trying to make […]
March 26, 2016

Compromise

I have always believed in inclusion. Long before I had my own children I worked with children with disabilities and I helped those families to advocate to have their child included. When I would meet a parent or professional that didn’t believe in inclusion I would be aghast. Doesn’t everyone want to be included, to join in, to belong? Even before I had kids I joined a local grassroots not for profit that was all about inclusion. Then came my own kids each with their own challenges. We chose our local Catholic board as they believe in inclusion unlike the public board (their idea of inclusion was to let some kids join their grade for gym or art and spend […]