My 9yr old son was recently diagnosed as being on the Autism Scale. This isn’t really news but it does put things into a different light.
My wife and I tried for 3 1/2 years to have a baby and when it finally worked, my son Rhys (pronounced Reese) Dante was the result. From an early age he was a little different although as he was our first child and with no small relatives to compare to, it was difficult to really put your finger on it. No separation anxiety when left at day care, obsessions with things. We put it down to it being ‘just Rhys’. I have to admit that my wife noticed things long before I did, partially denial perhaps and partially because I thought what he was doing was normal based upon my own childhood.
At an early age Rhys was already looking at the world differently, when asked what sound a dog made, rather than saying ‘woof’ he mimicked the sound instead. He had difficulty realising that boys and girls were different. As he has grown older he has proven that if he becomes obsessed with something, he will learn all he can about it and doesn’t seem to forget about it later on. We have accepted that if Rhys states something, there usually isn’t much point arguing because he is probably right. Luckily this only applies to the Titanic, James Bond and cars at the moment but I fear that will be just the tip of the iceberg. Rhys is also incredibly polite, ordering food at a restaurant, or even at our favorite Subways is always fun. His order will be sprinkled with ‘I would like’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. He charms everyone with his politeness and puts his brother to shame, even though his brother isn’t far behind in the ‘please’ stakes.
In the past few years though it has become clear that Rhys was not like his brother, or his classmates. He had a lot of bowel problems but didn’t appear upset or even take much notice if there was a rare accident. He is incredibly good humored but can explode into a screaming, shouting rage in an instant. Lately he has taken to mimicking the sound of the horn from the Dukes of Hazard car, the General Lee. He does it loudly for no reason.
He is oblivious to social skills and picking up on those unspoken signals. He doesn’t ‘get’ what is inappropriate to talk about, or when it is time to stop talking or change the subject. I think this may be why he gets picked up at school. We have only had a couple of reports about this from the school which shows that he doesn’t get upset by it. It might also be that for a 9 year old he is rather large. Large as in 1 inch under 5 ft tall and 140 pounds. He is a big kid and yet 98% of the time is gentle and sweet. Due to his size AND is lack of social skills, he does tend to stand out in a crowd which can make him a target. He doesn’t hit back if hit, why should he? Unless it is his brother, he doesn’t like to hit people.
It is important to realise that just because Rhys, or any other kid for that matter, is on the Autism Scale, it doesn’t mean that he will be the same as every other autistic kid. Rhys can maintain eye contact, loves to hug (and attempt to squeeze the life out of you) and is not withdrawn into himself. The therapist who diagnosed him compared him to Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Rhys will be able to live on his own, he will probably have girl friends, maybe get married. Autism will not affect his life like that.
We have been honest with him from the start. We explained that he might have Autism and why we were going to see a specialist, we went over everything. My wife and I will not lie to him, or his brother, about anything believing that it is better to hear from us than get a disjointed, perhaps incorrect version of the truth from someone else.
Since his diagnosis I see Rhys in a different light, no longer the disbehaving child who freaks out just because he doesn’t like peas, no longer the incredibly bright student whose report cards are well below his potential because he doesn’t make an effort to write. Now that there is an official diagnosis his school will be able to support him in the best way they can, knowing what they are dealing with and how to encourage him.
Rhys has the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen, distractingly beautiful. He is easy to love but not as easy to live in the same house as. He is compassionate, utterly adores babies, will give you his last penny if you need it, and is learning, slowly, about how to act in and around other people.
I worry that just because he seems like every other 9 year old that when he does do something he has little control over, or says the wrong thing, there may be people who judge him or act harshly towards him. I understand that I feel very protective towards him as would any parent be, but it doesn’t stop me worrying that because he has a mental condition rather than a physical one, strangers will expect him to be like all other children.
Perhaps next time you see a child who is not acting as you would expect, think about the possible reasons before jumping to a conclusion.