When the autism spectrum wins

After a month of hunting down posts about Beth’s childhood, my mind wandered to our other child. How has he fared through all of this?

I remember first thinking in terms of Beth’s disorder “winning” during a Skype therapy session for obsessive-compulsive disorder. The therapist sought to personalize, yet disassociate the disorder from Beth in a way. She tried to objectify it – make it seem separate and distinct, to make it into something for Beth to fight. It also served to lift some of the shame from her shoulders. “This isn’t you Beth. This is OCD, and we can make it go far away. It may come back from time to time, but it’ll get easier and easier to send it away.” In the case of OCD it kind of worked, with a LOT of effort and tears. There were exercises which helped her to overcome some of the distinguishing characteristics of OCD (in her case), while not letting it define her.

Asperger’s Syndrome, in the larger context of our family, has been another animal. One of the ways I fear it’s won is the attention we’ve shifted from our wonderful son to endless therapies, doctors, and counselors with Beth, before and after diagnosis (but mostly before). You may have noticed the daily posts leading up to Beth’s thirteenth birthday – my sort of mock countdown to the end of her childhood, with a few re-posts from the early days.

It got me to thinking.

I don’t have nearly as many posts about Adam’s early years. We’re still in them so I still have time, but still – not a whole lot of Adam in here.

It’s not that Beth isn’t wonderful, or Adam hasn’t been noteworthy, but damn it all if we haven’t fallen into a tradeoff trap.

There are a number of harmless explanations just dying to dive off the tip of my tongue. Some of the magic of raising a child may seem more routine the second time around. Beth had the stage to herself for seven years, while Adam has to share it with a veteran of the theater. There are a bunch more where those came from.

They all sound like reasons, but even to my mind they sound more like excuses. Yet somehow, deprived of his share of attention, Adam has thrived. Even though I haven’t read to him as much as I would have liked, he’s been reading on his own for almost a year now – and he doesn’t start kindergarten until this Fall. He writes notes in a little notepad, sounding out the words. How many times have I heard him say, “Wait! I just want to get this down before we go!” It’s precious and hilarious.

Maybe Aspergers hasn’t won, not entirely. Maybe it’s beaten me down a little, but my little boy is a little stronger.

It surely hasn’t bested my daughter.


  1. It sounds like Adam is a type of personality that will thrive in any situation. But tell him your concerns and that he can tell you if he’s feeling left out. You’re only human, kids need to see that and hear you admit it.

    I hope Colleen doesn’t mind me sharing this: I once told her she had done her best with her oldest and she said “Well my best obviously wasn’t good enough.” We laugh about it now but it’s pretty telling of the pressure we can put on ourselves as parents.

    1. Thanks Becca, I will.

      Recently I’ve been trying harder to find something that’s ours, an activity I set aside a bit of regular time for just the two of us. In the past I’ve tried to include everyone in everything.

      We’ll see.

      Oh, and putting pressure on myself is so easy. It may be the one thing I’m really good at ;-)

  2. Beth had the stage to herself for seven years, while Adam has to share it with a veteran of the theater.

    That, sir, is pure poetry.

    Neither of my kids has Autism or any other “ism” but the struggles with my oldest certainly left my youngest on the sidelines. As a single parent, when one kid is a handful, there are no more hands to go around. All I have been able to do is to keep the conversation going about it, to share my feelings about what we’ve been through as a family and hope that someday, it’ll all work out.

    Lots of love to you and your family.

    1. Thanks, as always Colleen.

      The talking part can be difficult, since one of Beth’s issues is communication – and listening in particular. But we muddle through, and I don’t know if I stressed this enough – it has been better.

      I’ll say this: I never could have done it on my own. Cheryl might dismiss it, but she’s been a rock.

Give the gift of words.