I read a thing a while back that described the autism spectrum as being not linear, but a full circle where various behaviours and traits might inhabit certain quadrants and a person might display a high degree of one element and none of another. It took me a while to wrap my head around, but it actually makes a lot of sense too.
Both of my sons are on the spectrum, but because they present so differently and my older son is 'higher functioning' I find it easy to forget sometimes that I need to apply the same processes in terms of communicating effectively with him as I do my younger son. I '' the term higher functioning deliberately, because whilst my younger sons ticks a lot more boxes in terms of what we might think of as autistic traits, both of my boys cope well in the world and have developed their own individual skills and coping strategies that help them make sense of what goes on around them and if I think of the spectrum as a circle I can see where the autistic elements that contribute to my older boyo's diagnosis differ enormously from those of my little mate.
If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person hey?
A few weeks ago the fifth anniversary of my smaller boy's diagnosis slipped by without any fanfare but not unremembered either.
I will never forget that day as long as I live. Sitting with my Mum after his appointment and feeling so overwhelmed and so scared, even though I had known that something was amiss for a really long time.
I couldn't have imagined him being where he is now. His little sister's babyhood was spent being carted around to various therapies, I can barely remember a lot of it which makes me sad but it is a story that many autism families know so well. It wasn't really until he attended a specialist kinder that my boy even started speaking, but you would never guess that was the case to spend time with him today.
He turns 8 in a couple of weeks. He is all arms and legs and elbows and knees. I see him at school running around with his little gang of mates, go go go with no apparent aim but just running because that is what they do. He has low muscle tone which has always been the case, but he's displayed an amazing ability for endurance running... we've been at his brother's footy training and I've watched him run lap after lap of the oval at a consistent, comfortable pace. It is like he switches to autopilot - I hope it is something we can help foster as he gets older that might give him some escape from the business of making sense of the world every day.
He is doing well academically. He has an individual learning plan and I meet with his teacher and support staff regularly to reassess his goals. We are so blessed to be at the school that we are - the support he receives is second to none and I've watched his abilities skyrocket over the past year.
Living with my son is like being on a rollercoaster sometimes. We laughingly refer to his cyclic behaviours as the 'full moon effect' but there's an element of truth in there as well. For a week or so out of every four he glazes over somehow... it is harder to connect with him and we go back to having to slow down and focus on things like eye contact, deep pressure and repetitive tasks to help bring him back to himself.
We've had a couple of very autistic weeks in a row at present, which has almost felt a bit like mania on his part he has been so high. He is stimmy and has difficulty controlling himself physically. His speech is very fast and he's literally bouncing off the walls at home. It is tricky, but it is part and parcel of his delightful self and in a few weeks he may well be back in a much more calm state. I actually love that he saves this for home, and at school the only real indication that something has shifted is that he ceases eye contact and needs fiddly toys and the like during floor time. Given he works so hard to get through the day in a fairly contained way, it's no great surprise that we see the explosion of emotion and energy at home.
Most of all though, as always, he is my beautiful son. People fall in love with him easily because he is an easy kid to love. He has an infectious smile, he says the most hilarious things, he is affectionate and loyal and so much fun to be around.
Five years ago I was so scared of what autism would mean for my family. Today I know that I would not change a thing. Both of my sons will do great things in the world, and maybe they will be things that a neurotypical person would never even think to do.
They are ausome.