“Mom! Those boys keep calling Sam a baby. They said he talks like one.” My daughter is running up to me in tears shouting this from the roof tops. I go to meet her chaos. My son is on the spectrum.

I call over Sam from his swing. I contemplate running over the other boys bikes with my minivan for a quick second. Then, back to this reality.
I sit with Amelia in her anger and discuss that this will be the way it is. That some won’t understand Sam’s struggles or the amount of effort it takes for him to do some things.
And, that, yes, he sounds like a toddler when he speaks. He is on the spectrum and was non verbal until about 4. He is 7 now so his words still get tangled up before they fall out of his mouth, especially when he is excited. I explain the importance in her advocacy and then shush down the fears that are going through her head. Having the same fears, I know the onslaught of input can be loud and deafening.
I chase after Sam. With peanut butter all over his face, I ask if he is ok. He tells me that he loves the sunshine and wants to ride bikes later. He said “ the kids didn’t play.” I reply with a reassuring “ I know. There will be other kids and other playtimes. Let’s go get our bikes.”
I look at this rejection and his sweet heart. Because I know the hardships he has overcome to get where he is, the hard line drawn between “us versus them” starting in childhood makes my breath catch.
How will I make sure he isn’t hardened by these types of interactions? How can I love him so fiercely that when the days of rejection come, he can walk on in the confidence of who he is.
Confidence is such a major factor in life. It can hold you in your room or it can tell your neighbor to “hold my beer and watch this.”
For Sam, this is a parental journeys worth of work. Giving him these opportunities and tips set him up for learning limitations, gifts and the world he is growing up in:
We let him try anything around here. Even if I know it will be hard for him. But, I don’t tell him that. I explain that we will do it together and then if he wants to keep going on his own, he needs to say so. For example, he wanted to play video games. He has OT and dexterity issues. I know this is challenging but he wants to learn. So, we start with sitting down and talking about what keys mean. How would you hold your hand? Two hands or one? Let’s grab a mouse. See how it can help you grab things? Then I sign up for the game and play with him. Side by side. Then, he goes on his own. Being confident in the black and white directions I have given him.
I feel like choice is always a way to build confidence. And, not do you want grape or strawberry jelly? Big choices with consequences. Do you want to go ask those boys to play or do you want mom to go talk to their moms? Which one? He started off just playing by himself all the while checking to see if I had done good work and a playmate was coming. But, we graduated to parent led conversations between peers and now we are heading towards independent asking of peers to join in on his game. Each stage manifesting just a bit more confidence than the stage before.
Be proud of how you were made. There ain’t anything wrong with it. Stimming is a part of our life. Seeing things in pictures as he does, he can spiral into a joy that cannot be described. One that can inhabit his body so much that it ends in a jumping frenzy. Or, doing up downs on the couch. Friends notice. Explaining the purpose for the stim instead of allowing the whispers or encouraging kids to quickly move along when you see the questioning looks doesn’t help. Anyone.
Explain why it’s a part of him. Why he’s doing it (he’s experiencing a large rush of emotion and processing it). And, then asking Sam if he’s ready to move on helps. But, shaming him into non expression feels like I keep shoving him into the same societal box that tells him he isn’t worthy in the first place.
Encouragement is huge! Being on the spectrum does not make a pat on the back any less rewarding. You see it, you say it! “Great job asking the cashier if you could have 5 pennies instead of a nickel back. Remember, he could’ve said “no” and I know you know that. But, this time he said “yes” and now we know how much change he has in his drawer. All because you asked! Strong work!”
Confidence is walking away too. There are just some people who aren’t going to like you and you can’t fall apart when they don’t. Kids on the spectrum want to feel loved and appreciated. They aren’t robots. Words do affect them. This past year, Sam was shoved in a bathroom and a kid turned off the lights. He was scared and confused. The school called me. He wanted to come home. I sped there to collect the piece of my heart that is him and we talked about it. Telling someone who sees in pictures and doesn’t exactly understand emotions that the events of the day were a reflection of the other child and not him was hard. But, important. I tell him that if he doesn’t understand why someone is doing something or what to say, ask for clarification. If they can’t give it to you, you can try again with a different friend. There is strength in walking away.
Giving validation to his feelings no matter how “off base” they are to you. Sam wants people to play on his game with him. He can build these elaborate worlds and servers but chatting is hard. He’s actually mastered typing “ I don’t talk much,” into the chat bars. But, he gets angry and disappointed when someone doesn’t know where a key is or they aren’t running from his traps. It seems like such a silly thing to me. Having emotions about a video game. But, he’s got some big ones. Listening to them and letting him know that he has every right to feel that way while explaining that others may not take the game as seriously as he does is the way to go. Reminding him that while we have a right to feel the way we do, we don’t have control over how others feel.
Instilling confidence in my son is a top priority. For anyone’s son. Tell them what they rock at. Tell them what to work at and for. Give them perspective. Let them question and take risks. I won’t be here forever but I pray my lessons will live on through him and into the man he will become.
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Jenny Dombroski lives and loves in Georgetown with her husband, Justin, and two crazy kids, Amelia and Sam. Her days are spent running her kids in two different directions, working on incorporating a little more sarcasm in her days and trying new classes at the gym. She believes in learning and experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly that life has to offer with as much grace as Jesus can give her.

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