Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Out of the Stream

"Maybe someday I won't be so preoccupied with us all swimming with the stream."  ~Me, in yesterday's post, Explaining

We are all unique.  We are all created in His image, yet somehow differently put together with varying likes, abilities, issues, strengths, weaknesses, talents, gifts... the list goes on.  We are also socially different.  We range a thousand different ranks on the scale between introvert and extrovert, people person and incredibly shy.  But even on that rainbow of differences, most of us understand that we're supposed to speak when we're spoken to.

A world ago, I would have had a hard time understanding the truth that some people run on a separate operating system than the rest of us.  I might not have understood.  I'm ashamed to say that I might have mistaken it for an excuse to allow bad behavior.

Can I tell you how much I hate saying that?!  I hate that I felt that way.  I hate that I was one of the people who smiled, but immediately thought, "If they'd just... then he'd..." always sure that I, having laid eyes upon said child for the length of a dinner or pass in a store, had the answers.  Basically, I was saying that, given the chance, I could do better.

I was wrong.  I couldn't have been more wrong, to be sure.

Yes, there are times when kids are just out of hand or out of line.  There are definitely parents who need to step it up.  Disciplining a child is hard work.  It's not fun at all, and there are times that you just wish they'd mind so you didn't have to be the referee again.

The truth is that not every child is capable of the same things every other child is capable of.  For one child, "hi" may fall out of the sky.  For another, hours, days, months, years of therapy to just hear that one word.  And some never get it.

If anyone could be a fly on the wall for a few days at our house, they'd see several things.  First, that we're incredibly, painfully human.  We make mistakes, we argue, and generally get selfish just like the rest of the world.   But what I hope they'd see is that, in most conflict situations between any combination of us, we're working to teach our children how to be blessings to society, not rude, overbearing, and mean-spirited.  We try to model good behavior, nice manners, and a host of other things that are necessary to fostering healthy, kind dealings with people.

However, there is one among us who runs on a different operating system.

While my two and four year old know please, thank you, and the other polite words and how to use them... seemingly out of the sky, we didn't have to work that hard... we've worked our tails off teaching Ryan these same things.  Some of them he has a handle on, but others... especially emotional, relational cues that should result in a response from him... are just not there.

Eye contact, for instance, is not something that Ryan is okay with much of the time.  Once you receive eye contact, you are in his world.  Even once you've received it, you may not receive it all the time.  It may be a fleeting thing.  This is not because he hasn't been taught; rather, it is part of Ryan's brand of autism.

No, we cannot model, teach, punish, berate, or otherwise get it out of him.  Autism is not an excuse for bad behavior.  Look at our other children.  Spend a little time with them.  Then spend time with Ryan.  Then tell me that we're bad parents.  That we're lazy and incompetent.

Why would I think that anyone would think that way?  Because when people repost a meme that says "Back in my day, behavioral disorders were called being a little #%$*" and "Autism: an excuse for your child being an @$$#*!#" that's what they're saying.

They're saying that we're incompetent.  That we haven't tried hard enough.  That we're maybe even making up a diagnosis to cover for our lack of parenting skills.

I won't lie... it stings.  It smarts.  It cuts my heart to the core to realize that there is no shortage of people running around the planet, clicking around on Pinterest, meme generating sites, and Tumblr who think this is hilarious.

Every time I accidentally run across one of those, my first reaction is to comment back.  But you know, when someone's made a joke, they think it's funny.  If you think that's funny, then you've decided that maybe my child is a joke.  His struggles are a joke.  My struggles are a joke. And I'd rather spend my words and effort here, where people who click do so because they want to read.

I've been there.  I've been that person who thinks they have it together.  There's an answer for everything, and it's all in my head.  If you'd just listen, I'd tell you how to fix that.  And I had "MY child won't act that way" syndrome.  The piety was thick.

And now I'm choking on it.

Autism, Asperger's, ADD, ADHD, ODD, and a host of other things that are unseen except to the person who knows that type of behavior... they're all real.

They're not the result of lazy parenting.

They're not the result of being given whatever the child wants.

They're not in our head.

And they're not going away.

The challenges and struggles that come with them are definitely not joke material.

I know I can't make everyone understand.  I know that there will always be someone who thinks that we just let Ryan have every little thing he wants and bow down to his every whim, although that couldn't be farther from the truth.

But I can come here and place a message in a bottle to someone who might find it at a time when they're willing to hear... and change... their perception of my reality.  Maybe at some point someone will read this, and the Lord will use it to soften the hard place in their heart that allows these things to be hilarious.  Maybe they will be led to have compassion and mercy on those who were created so differently.

But how do we live with the fact that not everyone will care?  How do we deal with the fact that we'll be misunderstood and hurt by people- even good folks- who just don't understand?  What do I do, just boycott Pinterest?  Write a nasty letter?  Quit going to church?  Stay home and never go to the movies, grocery shopping, or anywhere else?

Well, no.  Pinterest has been crazy good for my sewing, crafting, and cooking abilities.  And well, the nasty letter is a bad idea on several counts.  First, I don't do "nasty".  I'm called away from it to kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, and temperance.  And the rest?  Well, I need to get groceries, we need the fellowship of the body, and movies are great stuff.  Rather than giving up, we must remember that this is a free country, where free speech is something that comes with our citizenship. And it is for all of us to use.

We can remember who we are.  We have to rest in the knowledge that God knows us and knows what we're up against, and will give us the grace and mercy we need to do what we can in a way pleasing to Him.  And we absolutely, positively must remember who we are to live to please.
Part of Ryan's autism is not being able to keep up socially.  He does not understand the concept of rudeness, respect, or even the social cue that comes with whispering or just not talking when everyone should be quiet.  It's not for a lack of teaching.  It's really not his fault.  He really can't help it.  We are committed to doing every thing we can to balance his needs and who he is with the need to teach him how to relate to others.

So I will ask you to do one favor for me, which most of you likely already do... the next time you pass by a screaming child, or introduce yourself to a child who looks at the floor, hides in mom's skirt, or seemingly refuses to answer a question, I beg you to have mercy on him.  Have mercy, also, on his guardians.  They likely spend more hours begging for a yes or no, a hi or bye, than you can imagine.  I can tell you from experience, it's a different world with Ryan than it is my littles.

Thanks be to God for the free speech right that allows me to defend my boy and so many others like him.

And thanks to you for caring enough to read.

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