By, Dr. Kerris Dillon
When we last met, we were talking about Gabe and all of his unique Autistic features. I want to start with his elementary school years, which were probably some of the toughest. After Kindergarten, our family moved to a much bigger city where the classroom sizes increased substantially. This would have been okay for any other child, but for Gabe it was too much stimulus. We continued to work on flexibility with his routine and I started keeping Gabe home from school when I knew the teacher was about to rip out her hair from his continuous schedule questions.
The early elementary school years were probably the toughest as kids never seem to keep their hands to themselves. Gabe couldn’t handle other kids touching him. Games like tag or basketball sent him into a tantrum and when he asked others not to touch him and they did it anyway, he punched, kicked, and choked his peers. There was no way possible to get it through the other kid’s heads not to touch him. The school attempted to expel him when he choked another girl on the playground. She decided that Gabe was going to play foot tag and kept stomping on his foot and Gabe let her have it.
Thankfully, he was on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and legally couldn’t be suspended or expelled. I was glad that I’d been a public school teacher for 10 years and knew my rights as a parent of a child with a disability. I spent so much time in the elementary school advocating for his rights and trying to get him an organized and routine-centered teacher I might as well of worked there. Very rarely did the school ever listen to me. I was definitely a mom bitch and the staff rolled their eyes when I came through the door. I knew no one liked me, but I was my son’s voice when he couldn’t advocate for himself.
Things started to change when Gabe got a phenomenal 3rd grade teacher. This teacher taught me how to say, “no” to Gabe and that I didn’t need to explain the reasons for my decision. This didn’t mean that Gabe wouldn’t try to compromise his way through being told no, but this teacher gave me the ability to realize that children make their own decisions and have to be accountable for them. Every single day that I picked Gabe up from school, he was in tears as soon as he got into the car. It was exhausting, but I think school was exhausting for him.
The older Gabe got the easier it was for him to manage flexibility with time and to self-sooth himself when he got upset. Gabe’s coping mechanism was always video games and it still is. The minute he gets home from school, his eyes are slits and he heads right back to his room for video games to relax. Gabe will never be involved in limitless extra school activities, but at least he can make it through an 8 hour day without losing it anymore. We work quite a bit on his tact as he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s not okay to tell people when they are below average. Gabe still doesn’t realize how loud he talks in a restaurant or when he’s not following the conversation and inserts his own opinions.
Gabe is going to be in 9th grade this year and wants desperately to get a job. He’s only 14 years old, but wants to be working and paying for whatever he can get. My daughter wouldn’t have worked until she was 16-17 years old if she had her choice. Gabe consistently helps around the house doing anything that I ask him to. Although he doesn’t play football, won’t ever be in a play at school, doesn’t sing in the choir, and loves advanced math I wouldn’t change it for the world. Gabe has taught me so much about life and patience. I developed an enormous amount of patience parenting Gabe and feel like I can handle almost anything. Gabe is such a blessing in my life and I don’t know what I would do without him. I am so proud of him and the man he is becoming. Autism or not he deserves a life like everyone else and I hope all his dreams come true, even if he takes a whole different route than most. Wasn’t there something about a road not taken and how much of a difference it made?