In just over a month I will have two teenaged children. Oh my!! Surely I am not old enough for that?!
This impending milestone has me reflecting on the parenting journey L has taken me on. And wondering about what is in store for him in the future.
As a baby L was such a delight. He slept well, ate well, laughed well, and cried well! We used to say "you don't often hear L, but when he cries everyone in the block knows!!" He met his physical milestones all in good time, but he didn't speak much. In fact at age 2 he still only said a few words. He communicated mostly by imitating sounds (like coming to me and beeping *exactly* like the microwave to tell me he wanted warm baked beans), or by standing in front of things until someone noticed. He was always quietly persistent and very patient. Before he could speak much he already knew how to use our computer better than I did.
We didn't start L at school until after his 6th birthday because no one could understand him. We took him for speech therapy and he progressed well enough that we were happy to send him to school. We could tell he enjoyed the routine and loved his teacher, but we didn't get much feedback from him. He progressed very well academically through first and second grade. He was well liked, but didn't really have any friends, except for one other boy who had been diagnosed with Aspergers.
When L was in second grade baby G was born, and we had a sudden move to a new town an hour away so Hubby could complete some study to upgrade his qualifications. The new school was not a good match for him, and combined with the stresses of the 2 big changes we had it was all a bit much. His anxiety increased so much that he would hide under his bed in the morning hoping to avoid going to school. The only way to coax him out was to climb in under there with him and talk him out. We withdrew all the kids from school at this time and home schooled them for 6 months. During this time we sought and were given a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome for L, and we investigated and found a suitable school. L was able to attend physiotherapy, occupational therapy and started to visit a brilliant psychologist. All this extra support helped him immensely, and while he still struggled socially he began to enjoy the academic side of school again in a more suitable school and became much less anxious.
After 2 years in that town we moved back home, and now almost 5 years post diagnosis L is well settled here. He had a fantastic last two years of primary school, even being voted vice captain of his school in year 6!
Now in year 7, he has handled the transition to high school marvellously well. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend an anxiety management for children program during term 3 of last year, where L learned some excellent skills. He was very worried about what high school would be like, but came up with an amazing strategy- "Mum, I've decided I'm just not going to think about high school until 4 days before I have to go and then I won't have to worry about it at all until just before I go".
It is now almost the end of first term, and L has managed learning his way around, getting to know 8 new teachers and their communication styles. I met his teachers a couple of weeks ago and they all had encouraging and positive things to say about L. He manages his homework and assignments without fuss.
And he has a good friend. This is fantastic news. He goes and has sleepovers at his friends house, and they share interests that they are both a bit obsessive about. His friend does not have an ASD, but they just connect well and enjoy each others company. L is still well liked by his peers, and is greeted enthusiastically by them when he arrives at school in the mornings. He did tell me recently that if his good friend is away from school, or playing with someone else, he chooses to stay alone in the playground because even though he knows he would be welcome to join the other kids he just doesn't want to because they don't play the kind of games he wants to play. I feel glad to hear this because it tells me that L is happy in the place he is in, he knows what he wants and likes and he seeks those things out. He is content.
We still come across speed bumps daily. I sometimes get frustrated at how often I have to remind him to be careful to check if someones face looks angry before assuming their reaction is "a game". I do notice he needs a lot of reassurance and reminding about things like changes in routine. He still experiences large amounts of anxiety about dealing with conflict. He is still very awkward with his words when he is a bit stressed and can often just say the wrong thing. He is aware he is changing, and broached the subject with me recently. The conversation went like this- "Mum, why have you been treating me differently lately?" "What do you mean?" .... pause..... "Well...... I think it's because I sound different in my voice, like it's getting lower or something, so you are talking to me differently". "Oh, I see. You mean you are growing up?" "mmmm"...... my turn to pause..... "You have been behaving differently, so I guess if you behave differently or more grown up it makes sense for me to treat you differently." ...... another pause, so I continued, "Remember when E start high school and she was allowed to have more computer time than you?" He nods. "Well, it's a bit like that." "OK" " And you have your own mobile phone now, too, so I guess thats another sign that you are growing up" "Yeah" "How do you feel about that?" He shrugs. "Ok I guess. Can I use the computer?" "Sure." And that was that!
So, as we approach L's 13th birthday, I marvel over who is is and how he is growing up.The little boy who taught me about the importance of slowing down and listening closely, trying your best every time, and not giving up even when it is really truly super hard is almost a teen. It went so fast, and I am sure that the next time I turn around he'll be ready to get a job and learn how to drive!
I am thankful that he is the sort of kid who meets every goal we set for him, and then exceeds it by a bit. I like that he still wants a hug every night at bedtime. I am relieved that the efforts we have put in to move him towards the ultimate goal of self sufficiency are paying off. I love his quirky sense of humour, and that we can share a laugh together. Mostly I am happy that he is able to recognise that he is different than a lot of people and and that there are challenges that go with that, but that he is still comfortable in his own skin and is happy with who he is. Really- what more could a mother want? No matter what is in his future, if he can stay happy, that is all that matters.