Monday, January 13, 2014

The Chin is a Nose

I have lately discerned a theme in my life.  Relationships, heck people themselves are to me like those hidden picture optical illusions: I think I see the picture, but then someone pulls the page out of my hand and points out that “this chin is really a nose, see?” and suddenly the haggard old woman transforms into a beautiful lady in a choker. Same page, same arrangement of ink.  Given new information and a different perspective, I suddenly relate to the picture in a better way.

So it is with my son, who has adored and play-acted the liturgy since before he could talk; who erects all sorts of interesting and fantastically elaborate structures (churches, trains, ) out of chairs, boxes, books and stuffed animals; who has always struggled with fine motor delays, vision issues and problems with gross motor co-ordination; who as a toddler/pre-schooler hated, trembled at and wept over fireworks and other loud sounds; who, as a school-aged child, began launching into tantrums around academics, making homeschooling my own circle of Hell; who was also sensitive and easily hurt by corrective words; who wanted to cuddle on the couch every morning, and sneak into my bed after any bad dream; who was quick to say “I’m sorry” after a blow-out, and desperate to feel forgiven...

Our mysterious, wonderful boy could always talk a blue streak at a dinner party, and draw connections between architecture, historical facts and theology, seemingly remembering every detail I’d ever verbally shared with him since preschool.  He can comfortably converse with adults but struggles to connect with most of his peers.

For three years I worried that I did not home school him properly. I have beaten myself up for not parenting through his tantrums appropriately, for being too mean or too easy, for being around him too much, or not around him enough to adequately model How to Act, for not properly socializing him and for homeschooling in the first place, because evidently all of those “un-socialized home schooler” stereotypes were true. That was my fear, given what I was seeing.

Now I see the picture differently.  Take all of those details, step back and see the same picture from another angle...  How did I ever miss it?

John Paul has Autism.

His increasing intolerance of “itching” clothes, the belligerent shouting of “No!” and kicking of feet from my otherwise loving and moral boy,  those tantrums and meltdowns over schoolwork, (life’s biggest stressor for him because of his vision, processing and fine motor issues.) Those heretofore separate troubling issues now coalesce into one simple and beautiful picture.

Yes, I said beautiful.  Because this is my son, and now there is coherence in my perception of him.   He is not damaged; I have not broken him.  He is, as I have often said, “wired differently.” Considering the multitude of crosses that J.P. carries on his developing shoulders, he in fact exhibits more patience in his life's trials than frustration.  Behind his known vision, fine and gross motor problems we also now know for certain, there is ADHD; there is the diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Reading and Math; and although mild, there is an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I wrote the above paragraphs two months ago, and did not post until now because Emre and I needed time to sit and to process this diagnosis in private.

There has been a lot of pondering in my heart.

I am more proud of my son than I have ever been, and grateful to God for this clearer vision of him,  unclouded by my guilt, blame or regret.  His struggles are no one's fault: not mine, not his.  Those behaviors we'd labelled "bad,"and read as intentional disrespect or disobedience are suddenly not so cut-and-dried at all.  If I had his entire childhood to do all over again, I'm not sure I would change very much about how we've lived it;  this child is such an intelligent, interesting and creative person.  That is no illusion.

Now, to help him to see it, too.