What I Learned about Autism after becoming a Mom
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Some of you may know that I have my nephew living with me. Essentially I’m his surrogate mom and have been, full-time, since 2010. Prior to that, he lived with his mother. So how did my nephew come to live with me you ask? Well, let me explain! And then I’ll explain what I learned about Autism after becoming his mom.
My nephew was born in 1994 and had a relatively normal early childhood. When he was about 18 months old, his parents split and his mother moved about an hour south of us. For the first 10 years after that, my parents drove down and picked up up every weekend and brought him up for the weekends. We also had him every vacation week, and nearly the entire summer each year. He became very attached to our family.
During seventh grade is when he started getting difficult. He didn’t want to attend school. He was acting out and becoming confrontational – but only with his mother. When he was with our family, we didn’t have these issues. His mother worked with the school counselors to keep him in school and learning enough to pass. He did manage to pass, despite the fact that he missed more than half of the year. Over the following summer, the school psychologist evaluated him and he was diagnosed with Autism, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome.
Following the diagnosis, my nephew spent the rest of the summer with us. As a result of the diagnosis, he was enrolled in a different school, in the learning disabled class, and he spent his entire 8th grade year thriving!
The next school year rolled around and he was moved up to the high school. About halfway through the year, he began having difficulties. He started refusing to go to school or he would go but would leave part way through the day. After 30 straight days missing school, he was reported for truancy and a hearing was scheduled with a local magistrate. Meanwhile, his mother had been trying to work with the school psychologist and school counselor to keep my nephew in school, but they were having little success, obviously.
Long story short, the magistrate agreed to not issue a fine against his mother, as long as my nephew agreed returned to school since there were only two weeks remaining in the year. Unfortunately, he did return, but only for about four days. He refused to go back. The school year ended, and I picked him up for the summer.
Over the summer, his mother worked with the county children’s services office (as mandated by the magistrate) and their psychologist to find options for my nephew. Meanwhile, I was begging her to allow him to live with me. I was absolutely convinced that he would be better off with us. She agreed that a change needed to be made and she allowed him to come and with me.
Our NEW life
His mother had enrolled him in a cyber school program that he could do anywhere with the hopes that he would receive a better education. The drawback was that I would be his instructor, which I had no objection to, BUT I work full-time. One significant advantage to this particular cyber school, it does not require specific times during the day that he needed to be logged in, he just had to log in daily. After a little trial and error, we worked out a regular schedule working on school work after I got home from work, after dinner. It made for a long day for me, but I enjoyed receiving my own second high school education!
The school was incredibly supportive and helpful. They provided him with a laptop, printer, books, school supplies, and anything else we needed. In addition, they provided all the lessons and tests via a specific website. He did FANTASTIC! One-on-one teaching was exactly what he needed. We did spend three days going to a testing facility for him to take tests required by the state to graduate. I’m proud to report that he graduated in 2013, with a 3.85 GPA taking mainstream high school classes.
How we are managing his Autism today
When we received his Autism diagnosis, I immediately researched online to find the characteristics of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. As I read down the list, I could see my nephew’s behavior in nearly every single item. There was no doubt in my mind the diagnosis was right.
During the homeschooling, we had very few incidents. We were pretty used to each other, though full-time 24/7 for more than a few weeks of time was new for us. Nothing other than a battle of wills at times, we made our way through it. Since then, we’re so used to each other at this point, we can’t imagine NOT living together now.
My nephew’s Autism is primarily focused on social deficiencies. Though he is very smart, when it comes to socializing with others, even within our family, he struggles. He tends to be very literal. There are times when a joke is told, or a reference made, and he doesn’t quite “get it”, I will quietly explain it to him, and as soon as he understands, then he’s laughing like everyone else. Another characteristic is that he tends to be a little immature, though he has gotten better in the past few years. The battles of will have pretty much gone by the wayside, and he does do anything I ask him to do. I had a knee injury two years ago, and he was incredibly helpful while I was temporarily immobile.
Today he is 23-years old. We are still working out what he’s going to do for a living. He loves video games, but he needs to “do” something. I know he can’t spend the rest of his life playing video games… unless we can figure out a way he can make money doing it! LOL Crowds tend to overwhelm him, so he doesn’t leave the house a lot, but I do make him go out at least once a week. He does not have any “in person” friends but has a lot of friends that he regularly plays games with online that he does interact verbally with.
At this point, my goals are to work on what his future is going to be. If I knew I was going to live forever, he could stay home and do nothing for the rest of his life, but the reality is, I won’t live forever. So I need to work on preparing him for his future. He needs to learn to care for himself. He’s very self-sufficient, but can’t cook on the stove. He could do his own laundry, with some coaching. As I said, he’s very smart. BUT he is very lazy. And to be completely honest, I have spoiled him. I freely admit that. As a result, I’m even more determined to get him prepared for the future.
So what have I learned as a Surrogate Mom?
- Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your child and the diagnosis. Counseling and therapy for yourself and the child are a huge help. There are so many resources available – take advantage of them!
- Know your child. Know their behaviors, their triggers, their capabilities. Anticipate what may cause an issue and try to avoid that trigger so there is less stress for the child and for you.
- Depending on the severity of the Autism, treat your child as any other child is treated, but just keep those slight differences in the back of your mind. They are able to lead a perfectly normal life, with a little care and compassion.
- Educate everyone around your child. Explain what the child’s issues are and what any triggers might be so that when your child is visiting a friend, that parent can help with the trigger avoidance. I find that most people who are aware, are more than willing to help out.
- Surround yourself with a great support network and don’t forget to take care of your own mental health. Caring for a special needs child can be stressful but it can be very rewarding as well.
Some Final thoughts
Something worth mentioning is that I find that some of my immediate family do not really understand my nephew and all that’s involved. They keep hoping he’ll get better. This is who he is. I can’t stress acceptance strong enough. Accept your child and love them for the person they are, and help them be the best they can be… which is all that any parent would want for their child.
I love my nephew as if he were my own, and I am certain his coming to live with me was a blessing for both of us. I hadn’t planned on having children of my own, but I think I’ve turned out to be a pretty darn good mom! Everyone tells me that he is lucky to have me…. but I think it’s the other way around.
Do you have an Autistic child? What are some of your challenges and how do you handle them? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!!