Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moms Like Me

For awhile, back about a year to nine months ago, I used to take Ethan to places like the play area at the mall and compare him to other kids. He's not talking the way they are, my thoughts would go, or Why is he the only one distracted by the elevator?

The turning point I believe came this day back last spring when a mom and her friend brought a cute little boy with blonde hair named Jack to the play area. This was at the Enfield mall. Right away, I knew Jack was different. He flitted about from place to place. He made no notice of the other kids, and didn't look anyone in the eye, even his mom. I remember he marched up to her and said, "Up!" At that moment, something inside me told me that Jack had autism. And something else told me that Ethan did, too. They were the same but not the same. I can't say it was a shocking feeling...more of a revelation or realization. And in the midst of feeling pain and worry there was something else that gave me hope. That mom was so happy. She was bubbling, and she and her friend just loved Jack to pieces. You could see it in their eyes. I didn't see the self-consciousness, the comparisons. They were just loving him for who he was.

These days when I go to the play area I look for other "Jacks." I wonder: where are the other kids on the autism spectrum? Are they getting therapy or in preschool? Is there behavior such that their caregivers don't want to take them to places like the mall? If less than 1 in 100 boys is getting diagnosed, then there are obviously a lot of them out there. But where are they? And where are their moms?

People have mentioned support groups and I just don't want to do it right now, for a variety of reasons. One of my biggest concerns is that I will once again get caught up in the comparison game, when it comes to autism. I can see myself, getting to know people, trying to figure out what their child is doing versus mine, getting depressed if my son is not as far along, or meeting someone with a child five years older or 10 years older and getting frightened about the future. I'm scared because I want to meet people and share, but then I don't. I don't know if I've made enough progress yet to remember first and foremost, always, that Ethan is Ethan. Every child is different, and every child progresses differently.

There would be something so nice about it, though. It reminds me of all of the great conversations I have at MOPS, or of the two moms I overheard on the playground the other day, sharing their potty training woes. I would love to be at the playground with another mom and swap stories and ideas. Someone who would intimately understand our kind of unique questions (like Should I allow Ethan to keep playing with doors or make him stop? How much therapy is too much?). Of course, every child on the autism spectrum is so different, it's hard for another mom to generalize and give that type of advice. And I am blessed to have the opportunity to share with friends with typical kids who have lent listening ears, or talk online with friends who do have kids with autism. But it would be nice to see other kids and other moms or dads, in the flesh. Laugh about the idiosyncrasies and maybe not feel quite so alone.

It reminds me of the other day, at the end of one of Ethan's sessions when Jessica was talking about a new mom/child she's now seeing and how she was encouraging her about some things. I feel kind of embarrassed admitting, but as she was talking I was trying to picture this person and felt the deepest kind of empathy. I wondered what her little boy was like and where she lived. There's someone else out there! I know what you're going through! I was silently calling out to her.

Recently at Jessica's suggestion we've decided to sign Ethan up at a place in South Windsor that does all kinds of play groups/classes for kids with special needs. I am really looking forward to it, first and foremost because it sounds like a lot of fun for Ethan, if he can overcome his anxieties. And because there will be the opportunity to make connections. I just know they're out there, if I'm brave enough to make them.


Kristine Mullen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristine Mullen said...

Have you ever thougt about maybe connecting with other moms of special needs children and not just moms of kids with autism. Maybe you'd be less likely to compare them to Ethan and yet the moms would still understand on another level what you're going through. Just a thought.

Deb said...

Thanks for the feedback, Kristine. It's a good point. I'm not sure, but I think the playgroups he's starting are for kids with different types of special needs, although there may be an emphasis on autism. It may be a good starting point. I know what you're saying...