A Child With Autism

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.