Last year, we found the piece of the puzzle we’d been missing for my son and I’m going to share that with you today, with his permission.
If you’ve followed our journey at all over the past 7 years, you’ll know my son manages severe panic disorder, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder. LIKE A MOTHER F**KING rockstar, might I add.
Last year, we were struggling. Panic attacks had come back full-force, my son started to miss more days of school and signs of depression were written all over his sweet face. Your neurological system can only be in fight or flight for so long before it shuts down and then – well – hello, depression.
We managed to get in to see our psychiatrist, as I thought “He’s grown A LOT the past few years, I bet he needs to increase the dose of his meds or maybe we need to switch them up or something?”. Bear with me, I’m still learning every day about mental illness.
Our psychiatrist is THE BEST. I’m so grateful. My son and I met with her, they chatted awhile, they agreed that he had grown A LOT since his diagnosis two years prior (13 and almost 6′ tall) and an increase is meds was definitely needed. My son was then asked to leave so the doc and I could talk.
The next conversation changed our lives.
Doc: Lindsay, I’m going to ever-so-gently float an idea out for you that I’d like you to consider.
Me: Um. Ok. Always. *gets nervous because…wtf*
Doc: Have you ever considered that your son may have Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Me: *jaw drops*
Me: No. Not at all. He’s social. He has loads of friends. He plays sports. He does well in school.
Doc: Oh yes. I know this. But, I’m wondering if we’ve been so focused on his anxiety that we’re missing a piece of his puzzle. I wonder if he may be on the spectrum?
Me: I really don’t think so.
Our psychiatrist then went on to ask me a list of questions like:
- Does he focus on one subject for awhile and speak mostly on it for month or so? Yes.
- Does spend time trying to understand why his peers are acting a certain way? Yes.
- Does he often fixate on a problem he is having and is unable to let it go for weeks at a time? Yes.
- Does he worry and wonder why he doesn’t “fit in” with his peers? Yes.
- If an issue arises, does he fixate on that and does that cause him anxiety because he doesn’t understand what he did, what went wrong or why someone might be irritated by him? Yes.
Oh. My. God.
Wait. How could we miss this?
When I talked to my friends, his teachers, his counselors, everyone…and I mean EVERYONE had the same reaction. “No way”. I’d then ask the questions to them the psychiatrist asked me and everyone immediately changed their answer to “Oh wow. How’d we miss that?”.
And so it went. We went on to get him assessed and the results were that yes, my son has autism. And holy shit, looking back, of course he does.
How’d we miss this puzzle piece?
Simple. We’re not superheroes and we cannot think of everything. I berated myself for months for not seeing this sooner. I could have been more patient over the past years. I could have been less frustrated. I could have yelled less (you know – lack of patience and all). I could have been a better Mom.
But no. That’s not right. We ALL missed this. And that’s OKAY. We got that puzzle piece now and it allows me a new perspective. I see his beautiful mind and I also see when he’s now not understanding his social disconnect.
We call it his Greek brain when he’s not really understanding a social cue. I’ll say “O, your Greek brain is on, you might just have to let this one go” and sometimes, that’s the permission he needs to let that go and not fester and worry on a situation. This has exponentially decreased his anxiety – at least I believe it has.
My son is also very open about his autism. As he is with everything about his mental health. Again, he’s a F**KING ROCKSTAR.
I do have to say though, he gets a lot of pushback from his friends when he shares that information.
“No, you’re not.”
“Shut up. No way.”
Mostly, people don’t believe him or they think he’s joking.
We were driving in the car a few weeks ago and my son made a comment about his autism and his friends said “Wait, you weren’t kidding about that? You really are?” and I confirmed with the friend that he wasn’t kidding and we all had a little chuckle. His friend then said “Huh. Cool. I thought he was just really funny”.
I saw this quote the other day:
If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.-Unknown
I like that. Because autism has a spectrum of behaviours. No one autistic person is the same. What I would like to do is encourage you to continue to learn, as I am, about autism. I’d like to encourage you to teach your kids to not judge or refute a diagnosis when a friend shares this information. Teachers, too. We’ve had pushback there, too.
Assessments are there for a reason – for diagnosis. So, if someone has been through an assessment and they are on the spectrum, please don’t refute that with them. If someone is diagnosed with ASD, maybe just say: Cool. Is there anything you need in support or how does your autism affect your life?
Truly, it’s that simple.
Autism doesn’t have a “look”. I stared at my son’s beautiful face for 12 years. I knew him inside and out. Until I didn’t. Until we found that missing puzzle piece. I’ve always had a son with autism but now I know it and now I can honour that.
I hope you can do the same.