Friday, October 26, 2007
A friend sent me this link to a Newsweek article on quirky children. I know that if I was in the doctor's office or at my mom's house, I'd be drawn to this story, secretly hoping it would solve a mystery my family has been wrestling with the past four years.
I also reacted to the e-mail as an intrusion and as another fine example of people wanting to give you their opinion on your life, when they know nothing.
This friend of mine has what I'd call normal children. Actually, before I had my son six years ago, her children were the kind I would have used to describe the children I would never raise--quiet, neat, never questioning authority. No, of course, my children will be like my husband and I: loud, opinionated, messy, expressive and happy, most of the time.
So, here's this link that comes to me from an old Newsweek. I have one child. Probably won't have more. My child is quirky and everything I imagined he would be when I thought of entering motherhood or at least my brand of motherhood.
My child also has an autism spectrum disorder.
The first time I talked with school district officials about concerns teachers at his preschool shared with us, I remember saying, "Isn't he just a little quirky, just like us? We're not exactly normal, so wouldn't he be a lot like us?"
Well, they explained, it was a little more than just being quirky. I didn't rush toward a diagnosis, which we didn't get officially until January 2007. I didn't want to put him in a box, but at the same time, I could no longer explain away his aggressive behaviors or lack of interest in other kids, or his difficulty with physical tasks or sitting on the floor with a group of kids.
I clung to his high vocabulary, his love of books, his love of music and his spontaneous concerts of "Hound Dog" in the middle of the grocery store. He remains all of those things, with his special interests in dinosaurs and space aliens, too.
He continues to have his bad days, and most of the time, I can't predict when those days are upon us or his school. My cousin here in Tucson likes to tell me my husband and I are a perfect match for our son.
But really, I am only human. My son is, too. His autism doesn't make him a freak or a space alien, like the ones he plays with. But when you have a kid like this, the behavior goes beyond quirky, and other parents and sometimes educators are not too kind or understanding.
Last year was difficult. We lived in this 60,000 population semi-rural community. Most of the mothers I passed at my son's school gave us what I now call The Look. This year, it is a different setting. We don't get The Look as much in Tucson as we did in Washington. I wonder why?
Does the heat make being "quirky" more acceptable? The size of the town makes it easier to disappear? County Supervisor Richard Ellias told me Tucson has heart. I'm not eager to embrace that just yet. There's a lot of fucked-up shit in this city we're not working on. There are corners where that heart doesn't get out much.
The past couple of weeks have been hard. My son's going through something right now. Two days a week, he's in an after-school program at a community center that shall remain nameless. It is a center that bills itself as inclusive with a high teacher ratio. They don't know what to do with him. They are overwhelmed. We're expecting to be told, "This is it. "We don't have a place for your son." We've heard it before many times. It could work. I'm trying to stay positive, while also trying to advocate for my son as a new character I've created--Glenda the Good Bitch.
I knew I was going to have a quirky kid. I wanted a child that would question authority. I wanted a child that would love all that is good of being human--writing, art, books, music. Yet I find that our American society still wants kids that fit an Abercrombie and Fitch life. Not mine.
I read the Newsweek article. For my son, it's not just being quirky, but it's the quirky we have to celebrate. We all have bad days. It’s on those days, we say, "Fuck autism."