Middle school is a time for discovering who we are and how we relate to the world through the reflection of how the world sees us and relates to the person we are “perceived” to be.
As I drove my son to his 6th day of Middle school this morning, he asked me: “mom, because I have Autism- will my children have Autism?”. …. Huh??? The question hit me hard for a couple of reasons (not counting that I needed coffee)! Mitchell is 11years old and to my knowledge has only referenced himself to the diagnosis once, in a statement of past tense last summer, when he began a sentence with; “Mom- remember when I was a baby and had Autism…. It seems that Middle School has already challenged my son’s perception of himself….”more coffee please” “/.
Middle school represents a culture of youth where words, emotions, and life circumstances can leave lasting impressions. At a time, when parents could be the ultimate resource, we are often pushed aside as our emerging young adults strive to navigate the challenges of life independently. It’s tough because as parents, we want to take the pain away and remind our kids how awesome they are no matter who said what! However….here is the deal: when we give something to our kids that we didn’t get- we take away something we got. Did you cruise through middle school without a few hurt feelings, layers of questions or a daily dose of humiliation in class? Most of us carry more than a few embarrassing stories from those formative years in middle school and those “pains” can shape our perceptions, choices and decisions of the adult we ultimately morph into.
Did I share all this in response to Mitchell’s question?? No way, after all he is in middle school with an attention span of a Nano second! Mothers intuition whispered, “keep it simple and tread lightly”.
“No – although there is a genetic link to autism, there is no definitive cause.”
Sure I wanted to say more….I was also curious: “why do you ask?”
He answered with a middle school cool vibe, “I was just thinking about it….that’s all.”
Yeah right- my “mom-dar” knows better as I’m quite sure the A word has been said by someone, somewhere, at some point during his school day.
As I took a deep breath and suppressed my primal instinct to protect my youngest son from the potentially painful “world of words”, I shared a story about him as a little boy on the way to speech one Thursday afternoon.
For over four years, Mitchell and I would spend hours together in the car making our daily rounds from speech, occupational, and play therapy talking, pointing and consciously connecting with each other through communication. On this particular day, as I pointed to a yellow car expecting Mitchell to look and repeat “yellow car”….I got this instead: “mom, can we just be quiet now”…
(Well just shut me up was my first thought as I smiled from ear to ear). My boy just “asked” a question!!!
I knew in that moment, Mitchell would learn to navigate his way in this world of words which we all call home.
On this morning before Mitchell exited the car, I reminded him that although autism may be a part of what he is, it does not define who he is.
As I drove away from the middle school with one more check in the review mirror, just to make sure he made it through the front door, I recalled my little two year old son standing on the bathroom counter. I’m standing behind him, trying so hard to help him “see” himself in the mirror: I take his finger and point to his mind- “I’m smart”, I take his arm and make a muscle- “I’m strong”, and I place both his hands over his heart- “I’m kind”.
What my little boy (ok…not so little anymore) doesn’t know is how often without him there- I looked at my own reflection and repeated the same mantra: “I’m smart, I’m strong, and I’m kind”…..just like this morning as I drive away.