Two Words – “Autistic Behaviors”
By Bernadette A. Moyer
Our son is different and we always knew it. At home and in familiar places he is fun loving and easy to be around. Yet many times and throughout his 24 years there was a cause for pause, it could have been an anger issue or how easily he was to sway or seem out of it. It could have been the impulsive literally not looking at traffic before he would dodge across the busy street times. Sometimes it was a simple goofy thing that he said.
At the top of his game he would achieve National Junior Honor Society all through middle school and become an Eagle Scout when he turned 18 and a few years later pass the ASVAB and join the United States Navy. He would successfully help run a yogurt shop at the local mall for more than three years until they closed.
But there was always something off, in his words, “why can’t I be normal?” and most recently his declaration of “I always knew that I had something.”
Were we living in denial as his parents when we witnessed his lack of a desire for a driver’s license, his inability to relate to most people his age, his immature temper tantrums and high anxiety? We may have missed it but so did many others. Shouldn’t his teachers have said something? Did they know but were being politically correct when they called about his behaviors but never went “there” there as in “autistic behaviors?” And what about the times we took him to be a therapist and a psychiatrist and they concluded with “he is a very likeable guy.”
I wanted to scream out loud with YES! yes very likeable but could you dig a little deeper! But I didn’t and went along as we continued along with so many of his issues and cries for help. He is an artist and an actor and quite dramatic so we talked to him and continued to counsel him and support him.
According to his therapist he is “very well supported” or he might never have had the many achievements he did achieve. Earlier this year his job of more than 3 and a half years ended abruptly when the shop closed their doors for good, within days this would send him into a severe depression and to the hospital. In the six months that followed he would spend two more hospital stays of five nights each. After the first stay he was diagnosed with “severe depression” and for me it just didn’t square. I knew it was more than that.
At home he was up early and doing things, he always ate with a healthy appetite between the first and second hospital stay he went to two art fairs, the movies, out to lunch, out to breakfast to the mall and sang in a talent contest, he went to the gym, to an Orioles baseball game, he swam and interacted with my husband, his best friend, me our two dogs and our neighbors. Severe depression? It just didn’t add up and two weeks after that diagnosis he ended up back in the hospital.
This time would be different. Because he is a legal adult they never bothered to ask us, his parents about him. It was frustrating. But then a social worker called me and asked if he could talk about our son. I said, “get your pen and paper because I have a lot to say.” With that my voice quivered and I began to cry. It was time to put it all out there, there was no room for shame, the only way he could receive the care he needed was to get an accurate diagnosis.
For the record, before writing this blog I asked his permission to write it and to share it and he was eager to have me do so.
When you have a child that you love so much, it is so hard to watch them struggle and what is even harder is to see kids in school that not only don’t want to be his friend but take joy in teasing him and making fun of him. It breaks your heart.
He was asked when he first thought about suicide and his answer was devastating to us his parents, he replied with, “when my twin sister was mocking me and taunting me and saying and doing things to make me feel bad about myself, I wanted to jump off the bridge in our neighborhood.” We always knew they bickered and that there was a rub but we never knew the depth of his desire to end their relationship nor did we fully understand why.
Things that many young people take for granted he has struggled with, things like eye contact and proper communication, dating skills and passing his driving test. Yet in one day and after 15 failed attempts he would finally secure that driver’s license and the same day secure a new job.
The job wouldn’t last though and within a few weeks he would be fired. More failure for a young guy that would take it so personally and send him in a tailspin and to the hospital. He wanted to quit he wanted to give up he wanted to end his struggles. This time the doctors and his psychiatric team would go deeper and do more tests and acknowledge his impulse disorder, his anxiety and there it was the big one, “autistic behaviors.”
Many times through the years I would think it was “high performing Asperger syndrome” even though today they don’t use that term. Today everything falls on the autism spectrum. When his father and I read his papers there it was “autistic behavior” and my husband immediately said, “you were right!” I knew we all knew. All I felt in that moment was relief. He would have his answers he would receive therapy and medication and we would help him to grow the support team around him.
In the short run, we would lower our expectations on him moving out and stop putting any pressure on him to get a job, we would help him to go back to school. Today we are all more hopeful and healthier as a result of the honest analysis and diagnosis.
Our son is a great young man with a lot to offer this world. I enjoy spending time with him. He is painting more and has started to keep a journal. He has forged a strong relationship with a neighbor who also suffers with depression. He has goals that he wants to achieve in learning to develop more relationships. Recently he has secured a fully funded college scholarship and wants to be a Vet Tech.
What I know for sure is that with proper treatment and the right team supporting him, he is once again on his way and he will decide, now armed with much knowledge what his future will look like, and God willing we will be there with him cheering him on, all along the way.
Bernadette on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer
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