Our 5 year old son’s preschool teacher asks me regularly what she can do to help Parker. I never know how to answer her. Sometimes I get the feeling that she thinks I don’t care enough to offer anything valuable. I’m actually incapable of offering anything valuable, because I don’t know what this is. I understand autism intellectually, but our experience with our child isn’t a Wikipedia entry.
Everything that worked yesterday to get him moving, or prevent him from aggravating his younger brother, fails today. My wife and I feel a lot of guilt for not always knowing how to react. Parker is such a sweet kid and I can’t imagine a life without him. I worry about him not being able to make friends in junior high. Not being able to find a partner. Not being able to experience life within normal parameters.
We have become more isolated. Our 6 year old next door neighbor wants to play with Parker regularly. But we limit it. The neighbor is a charismatic, athletic, outgoing boy. I fear that if he gets to know Parker too well, he won’t like him. But this is me projecting; trying to orchestrate the social interactions between children. I want to protect Parker from the cruelty of the world — cruelty that he doesn’t have the capacity to understand.
I embarrassed myself in the preschool carpool lane. It had been a particularly stressful day, with little sleep from the night before. Once again, Parker refused to get in the car until I thoroughly answered a nonsensical question, while cars backed up behind us. I could feel the heat of mental strain building up with every car that pressed into the lane. Finally I managed to get him into his car seat, where he thought it would be a good idea to deliberately poke me in the eye for no reason whatsoever. So I barked at him for what was probably 10 seconds, but in hindsight seems like 10 minutes. Mothers in the carpool lane were staring at me while I lost control of my ordinarily mild demeanor. I’m sure I looked like a Neanderthal to them, while yelling in the face of a 5 year old. They don’t know that loud sounds coming out of an angry face have little to no impact on him at all. Sometimes he seems to think it’s a game. The social cues aren’t there.
I should be doing a better job of preparing for moments like this. Rather than using the carpool lane, just park the car and walk inside to retrieve the kids. But there is a conscious denial that still insists we can do things the way that everyone else does them. We can’t. I don’t feel victimized by this. Nor do I feel a sense of martyrdom. Everyone has problems to solve in their lives. Some more significant than others. Ours just exist somewhere along that continuum. I am, however, having a tough time accepting it.
This has come to dominate our lives over time. I don’t resent Parker. He didn’t choose this. The real frustration comes from not being able to fix it, because there isn’t anything to fix. This is who he is. I know there are Dads who really hope their kid will make the baseball team, or one day take over the family business. I just want Parker to be liked, because he is such a likeable boy (when he isn’t poking his Dad in the eye). It’s really the only thing I care about. Everything else is icing.