Saturday, February 27, 2010

Different, Not Less

I'm not much for watching movies or shows on television, but my curiousity was piqued a few weeks ago when I came home to find my husband glued to something on HBO. It was a movie about an autistic girl growing up in the fifties and sixties. The apltly titled movie was about Dr. Temple Grandin, who was born in 1947 when not much was known about autism and when the disorder was erroneously blamed on a lack of love and affection from the child's mother. Temple's mother never gave up on her and never accepted the grim advice from the doctors. Eventually, she went on to earn a PhD in animal sciences and today she is a professor at the University of Colorado. According to the movie's credits, half of the cattle in North America are handled in humane systems that she designed. If you can, see the movie "Temple Grandin."

When my son was finally diagnosed as being on the autistic scale of disorders, it was a relief to have something to work with. You can't help a child when you don't know what's wrong with him. At one point, we'd been told that he was schizophrenic and thankfully, we did not accept that diagnosis and went elsewhere for help. His IQ is borderline and at first glance, he appears perfectly normal, but if you talk to him at length or observe his actions, you begin to detect he's different. But what he's not is less. There are times when I am extremely frustrated with him. He is and has always been held captive by his own thoughts. When he was a little boy, it was trains and dinosaurs, then it got to be Star Wars and now it's girls and shoveling snow to make money. He needs constant redirection, but then again, so do I. It's too easy to get frustrated with him and forget that the sweet little boy who spent hours and hours playing with Thomas the Tank Engine is physically growing into a man, but not at the same rate mentally. He curses because in his mind, that's what grown ups do. He nags us about the same things over and over again because that's the way his mind works. I'm not crazy about the people he's friends with, but with them, he's found acceptance and because they're just like him, he feels safe. They're not bad kids - just different, and I've had to remind myself time and time again that they are not less either. I worry because it seems there's not a lick of common sense between the bunch of them, but by the grace of God, they manage to get from point A to point B safely together.

For months, I resisted letting my son be friends with a certain boy at school because I thought he was a bad influence, but then I got to know him a little and I saw how my actions had only exacerbated the painful cocoon this child was living in. Now I see a change in him and my son. Whereas before his friend could not make eye contact or speak to us, he can now come in the house and look at us while he is talking. I realized before when he would turn down dinner invitations at the last minute that it wasn't because of rudeness but because he had such anxiety about social situations with people he didn't know. I had rejected him as being suitable for my son before giving him a chance because my son is my priority and I didn't want any harm to come to him, but it never occurred to me how this was being perceived by this other child, who has had to endure his own unspeakable pain in life. So the lot of them are different, but they're not less in the eyes of God, and may the Lord have mercy on me for having ever acted as if they were.

My son is often seeking my advice and help for his friends and I now know why - because they don't have parents they can go to. I thought it was overwhelming to have a child like my son because I'm not exactly a patient person, and now I see that the Lord, in His wisdom, doesn't think I have enough still, so He has sent me some other kids to practice with. Pray that I do a better job than I have!


  1. I just saw a couple books by Temple Grandin at Barnes and Nobles that I wanted to buy in the spot, they had me so intrigued. (I teach Special Ed CCD and long to learn and understand as much as I can)
    The books looked fantastic, just from the few bits I read there in the store. You may already know of them, but if not, perhaps they would be of interest. One was called Thinking in Pictures, and another, The Way I See it: A Personal look at Autism and Aspergers.

    God Bless you and your family!

  2. Thanks Kelly! I did not know of her books but I'm going to make a point to look for them. If you search for her on YouTube there are excerpts from a series the BBC did on her. I'm astounded by the fact that she is profoundly autistic. Matthew is not. Right after Matthew was diagnosed his psychaitrist told us he was a visual learner and would never grasp concepts like algebra. Yet he has done ok with geometry, and that's because he can visualize most of the theories. I wish I had known there were Special Ed CCD teachers - when we had to take Matthew out of Catholic school so he could receive autistic classroom support, he went to CCD. He did ok but he felt self-conscious. One of the hardest things for children is to know they are different. God Bless you for all you do!


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