By Terri Mykland
Today is world Autism awareness day. I'm guessing that many of you, like myself, are already more aware than you ever wished or dreamed of being. On this day, I try to look beyond "awareness" (and exhaustion!) and see positive things autism can bring: Today I see hope and gratitude.
My son is 19. At age two, we had an appointment with a neurologist, in which my guy played with my car keys through the entire hour: Moderate-to-mild, possible brain damage, school programs available, good luck, out the door. Photos from that time show a cute redhead, with absolutely no affect: dead eyes, staring out from a sweet toddler face. Ten months before, he'd had sparkling eye contact. I went home and lived on the internet, reading, researching, digging into the night for anything that gave me something to believe in: PDDNOS, what? Regressive, how? What might help?
From two to the teens, we went through a lot: So MANY IEP's. Inclusion. Homeschooling. Therapeutic everything-on-earth. One year I told my husband we needed an infrared sauna AND a hyperbaric chamber. Some things helped, many did not. Somehow, we managed it all. Our marriage didn't, though, and ended when my son was 16. Vitamins made a difference right away. Diet didn't, much, but maybe helped his gut heal a little. Other things that really helped: ABA, candida treatment, heavy metals removal, hyperbarics, biofeedback, exercise. Our guy exceeded our expectations so many times that this became the mantra: Keep hoping, and you will sometimes be surprised. If one thing doesn't work, move on to the next, with enthusiasm if you can manage it, or at least, with hope.
Our guy has his own answers these days, a lot of the time, which is kind of a wonder. He lives in his own apartment, as part of the College Living Experience program in Monterey. He attends community college classes -- passed a math class last Fall! He buys his own groceries and cooks his own meals (but heaven only knows exactly what he eats -- I'm a bit scared to ask). He still has very limited friendship capabilities, and is miles away from wanting a girlfriend. What will he do in five years, or ten? We don't know, but it will probably involve computers made by Apple. All we know is that, as always, we will keep looking for the best thing, the thing that lets him maximize who he is. I guess that's the other mantra: Appreciate every tiny victory. You learn that pretty quickly with a guy like mine, and you never forget it.
So what do we do as parents, when he's 19 and we don't even see him every day? Well, I sent my brilliant ex-hubbie email yesterday morning about a device that you stick up your nose, and it delivers 810mhz light waves to stimulate the brain. Is this plausible? I asked." "Yes" he said (degree in physics from UC Berkeley). "Do you want to do more reading on it?"/ "Yes." So I guess, at 19, it's the same as at age two: we are very grateful for what we have, and we pursue the next thing with enthusiasm and hope.
He's on spring break this week. I took the big guy (six feet six!) to breakfast today, and to visit my work. He got to meet my boss, and show him what an adult with autism raised with a lot of hope and high expectations looks like. It took him less than 5 minutes to get his Ipad hooked up to the wi-fi. There's some autism awareness for ya!