Sockpants and Super Heroes: Therapy
Have you ever had what you thought was a brilliant, drop the mic, your job here is done type of parenting moment only to find that while that one problem is solved, you now have an entirely new set of parenting nightmares. Here’s how mine so innocently began.
Several columns ago, I recapped a beautiful mother and son moment on the subject of autism. Feeling ever-so-clever, I used the literal meaning of a ruler to explain to Caleb that autism affects everyone differently. Some people have a little more autism, some have a little less. But in the end, autism is part of what makes Caleb perfect; just the way he is. Bam. Parenting genius. I’ve been practicing my Special Needs Mother-of-the-Year acceptance speech ever since. So, how did this moment create the recent series of train wrecks in my life? Read on.
Last school year, Caleb gets off the bus crying because a classmate was mean to him. He finally calms down to explain, “She said my autism doesn’t make me perfect. I told her that my mom says I’m perfect just the way I am and she’s not allowed to talk about my autism ever again.” (Gulp) What was intended to help him see that autism does not mean he’s broken has now created a new misunderstanding. I decide to backtrack a bit, “I guess I should have been more specific. She’s right, Caleb. No one in this world is perfect. But some of our differences, like your autism, is what makes you wonderful. Maybe perfect was a poor word to use when I was describing what makes you great.” Caleb’s little sister, Kelly, wasn’t satisfied with how I dealt with the situation and shouts angrily with her fists tightly clenched, “Listen to me, Caleb. The next time she talks about your autism you tell her that your autism makes you smart! Smarter than her, smarter than me, and smarter than everyone in our class. I’m gonna tell her tomorrow that she’s not perfect and see how she likes it. No one is mean to my brother.”
I calmed them both down and things went smoothly after that. Caleb finished the school year understanding that no one is perfect, Kelly educated their classmates that autism makes her brother special and that it’s best to not argue the point or suffer the consequences, and their older brother Tyler started exploring new medications to help control his Tourette’s.
Yep, things were smooth sailing after that until I noticed that my daughter’s already unique fashion trends began to oddly change. Instead of accentuating her beloved alternative to pants, (tights=socks+pants), she began fashioning elaborate accessories that resembled neck braces, arm slings created from infinity scarves, layered socks to resemble a foot cast, and crutches made from youth ski poles. I won’t lie, the fear of a spontaneous visit from Child Protective Services began keeping me up at night.
Things finally fell into perspective during a long commute to one of Caleb’s therapy appointments when Kelly, who was disgruntled over a play session cut short with the neighbor’s new puppy, shouts from the backseat, “I’m really mad at you, Mom. Everyone in this family gets therapy but me. Tyler gets to go to the doctor for his Tourette’s, Caleb gets lots of therapy cause of his autism, and-I-get-nothing! It’s not fair. I have problems too, ya know.” As I’m slowly processing her outburst, Tyler adds fuel to the fire as he laughs and says, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight. You’re mad because you’re normal? That’s just too good.” Two things happened in that next moment. Tyler received a hard whack to the head, courtesy of a make-shift crutch wielded by his sister in the backseat, and I received an emotional whack to the heart. In my effort to help Caleb accept his differences as something that makes him wonderful, I planted the seed in my daughter’s mind that she was not special because she was born without a disability. For weeks I had watched her trying to create a disability that, in her mind, would make her special too. Epic mom fail.
I’ve now spent the last few weeks of the summer creating purposeful quality alone time with my daughter showing her through my actions and my words how amazing she is and, to her delight, she will be starting counseling this fall. Because, really, what’s another session of therapy in our full lives of sockpants and super heroes.