This week I came across a page on Facebook entitled ‘ Autism Gratitude Project, it’s a task to complete throughout the month of April, Autism Awareness Month. I thought this blog article, from my friend Kris Barrett, was a perfect fit!
Kris and I met through mutual friends and fellow ASD mothers. We correspond regularly via facebook and have enjoyed a couple of hysterical, emotion-charged lunch gatherings with other mums. When we all get together we have to allow at least three hours to share the funny and the frustrating stories of raising a child on the Autistic Spectrum! I am sure others look at us and think that we have the most carefree, worry-free existence – little do they know!!
Kris has been married to married to Graham for16 years and they have two children, Nicola who is 11 and Tim who is 9 years old. I hope you enjoy Kris’s story this week, sharing some of the awesome things that are different about our children.
It got me thinking of all the ways our lives have changed because of Tim and his autism. It was actually refreshing to turn things around and think of all the stuff Tim has brought into our lives, rather than the majority of things we read about autism and the deficits of the children, how hard it is, how tiring it is. And it is!! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be Pollyanna here. But every now and then, if you can see a sliver of a silver lining, then it might help you through a few dark & difficult days.
I think a sense of the ridiculous is one of the things I’ve adopted on my autism journey. And this has been shared by other autism mums I have met along the way. I have found myself sitting at coffee shops in hysterics, tears streaming down our faces, laughing at things we’ve done to get our kids through a particular situation. Being able to laugh in these times, has kept us sane. Because of Tim and my membership to the autism mum’s club (which I don’t recall signing up for by the way, but it seems it comes with a lifetime membership), I have met some of the strongest, funniest, most caring and supportive women in the world. That is a gift for me. These amazing people wouldn’t have come into my life had Tim not been autistic, so that has been something I’ve gained.
Tim’s honesty and literal viewpoint of the world catch me out sometimes, but not always in a negative way. His teacher called me in one afternoon last year and told me about a comprehension exercise they had done in class. They had read a passage, answered questions and then needed to colour the sheet in. He finished his colouring in about 10 seconds and brought it out to her. She saw it was still black and white and told him to go back and finish it. He became exasperated with her and said “of course it’s in black and white, this was back in the olden days, there was no colour then!” She had nowhere to go with that except to hide her laughter from him!
When he was about 7 we stayed in a motel in a country town where the lovely owner, a large jolly woman, was serving us dinner in the restaurant and Tim said “Excuse me” (he has lovely manners) – “Why are you so fat”? We nearly died and fell off our chairs and apologised on his behalf. Tim didn’t understand why he was in trouble – “but she is fat”. Social etiquette is completely missing in him, he tells it as he sees it. He is completely honest. He can’t lie. He tells me now that he’d like to lie to get out of something, ‘cos that’s what the boys at school do. But he just can’t do it. You always know where you stand. Other mums at school are amazed that he walks up to me every afternoon and tells me exactly how it is – “I had a bad day today Mummy, I did x and y and got sent to the office”. They only WISH they got half of his honesty from their kids.
He is a policeman. There are rules, and you should follow them. And if you don’t, then he will call you on it. That is not necessarily a great social move, but it means he is safe and his behaviour lives up to expectations. If he’s told he has to read 10 pages for homework, you can bet he will read 10 pages. If he’s told you can’t run on the concrete, then you don’t. So when it’s raining and I’m running out of the school grounds with him, he tells me I shouldn’t be running here. He’d rather get wet than break a rule. That’s how he makes sense of his world, so when these rules are broken or bent, he doesn’t respond well. It is actually refreshing to know that if we say “this is the rule” that he follows it and we are able to then set the base from where we teach him. This does have its challenges, like when he was in Year 3 and his teacher was showing them how to do an ‘x’ in cursive writing. He yelled at her that she was a liar, and got really upset and ran out of the classroom. It was so out of character and he loved her so it was a bit difficult to understand why he’d done it. We finally figured it out – he’d had her the year before when she’d taught them “this is how you write an x”. For him, that was black and white – an x was an x and he’d believed her. So when she was teaching him a year later than an x was now an x, he was not happy about that.
He has THE most amazing memory. He is a pleasure to teach. He soaks in everything and then asks a hundred more questions. He listens to things the other parents say and asks about them. I have mums who bring home pamphlets and information when they go on holidays, because he has asked them all about where they’re going, what they are going to do there and usually he will know some historical fact about the place. He is genuinely interested. People might ask something like “have you been overseas?” and he’ll say yes, he went to Fiji. And when they ask him “when did you go?” they expect him to say “in the school holidays”. No … he tells you when he went. “We went on the 27th September and the 11am flight with Virgin and it took 4 hours to fly there and then we stayed at M resort and the lady called X showed us around and we stayed there for 7 nights and we flew home on the 3rd October on flight 345”. If I get a bit wrong “oh we went to Fiji for a week in October”, he will correct me and give all the details to the person, so they can get the RIGHT information.
He has a passion for all things old & history in general. He immerses himself in books about the war and in particular has a fondness for old planes. He can tell you which engine was on which plane, which battle it fought in, what years it was in service. He calls himself a ‘military enthusiast’ (big words for a 9 year old!). But his passion for history has seen us travel all over the place to engage him. There is such pleasure in taking him to Victoria and travelling out to Sovereign Hill to see how it was in the gold rush, and go down an old gold mine in Bendigo and see how they lived in the 1850’s.
He so appreciates all the experiences and new information and we get so much out of seeing the happiness it brings him. We have found ourselves in all sorts of strange little towns, visiting weird little museums because of his interest and his passion to learn more about things. It has certainly taken our family to places we would never have bothered to go, and we have had such fun times and great memories. We find ourselves planning holidays and trips around Tim’s interests which are a pleasure to indulge. Tim has been able to do school projects about Bushrangers, the Gold Rush, farms, flight and space all with personal pictures and knowledge of him actually having been there and learning it first hand, not through a book. It will be no surprise to you then that he is desperate to go to Europe and visit every museum there (which he will be able to name for you by the way!).
Tim has an ability to touch everyone he meets. Old teachers remember him, they say someone like him doesn’t come along very often and he will always be with them. Family and friends will call and say “I saw this article and knew Tim would love this so I’ve sent it to you”. “I saw this ad for a TV show and knew Tim would be interested so I’ve taped it for you”. He is also the reason now that I do the work I do and the study I do.
I started my own business five years ago supplying foods for other kids like Tim, who benefit from special diets to address their food allergies. I’m now studying nutrition to be able to run workshops for parents of kids with autism & ADD around nutrition and lifestyle. This is all out of left field for me. The passion and the drive behind both of these areas is Tim. Had Tim never had autism, I would never have explored these areas and be so totally happy working and studying in the areas I do now.
So on a good day, I can see just how much Tim and his autism has changed me and my family for the better. Believe me, every day is not a good day and we still have many challenges – anxiety, social struggles, frustration at not being able to do things, afternoons filled with therapies all helping him to cope in the world. BUT – he has taught us all a new way of being in the world, of patience and understanding, of not judging others, of accepting, of giving. He’s taught us to laugh at ourselves and our situations, and cliché as it might sound, I like the ‘me’ that Tim has helped me become much better than the one I was before him.
If you would like to share your story, and be one of our guest bloggers on David’s Gift, please email me at email@example.com