My husband’s son, my stepson, has autism.
He just turned 13.
His older son now 14, has several other diagnosed issues. (all of which in my observance are treatable with consistency and good discipline). But that is a story for another time.
When we met 3 years ago I was fearless when it came to my autistic stepson and his challenges. I saw him in a different light. His OCD’s intrigued me and the manner in which he
participated isolated himself amazed me. He lived in a world all his own. I recall observing him when we first began dating. What could possibly be going on inside this boy, I would think to myself. I approached him without caution and spoke to him as if there was no handicap between us.
He is non-verbal.
I still recall a playful moment we shared when we first met, while he was doing something some autistic children do, called stimming. He watches videos, but often rewinds a particular part over and over again. While
watching rewinding a video for the 5th time with various shapes and colors I stopped him. He looked at me with amazement as I began to speak to him about each color and shape. Afterward he would stop the video on the same segment and take my hand to retrace the shapes while I said the names of each one and told him what colors they were.
He smiled and looked directly into my eyes. This is not something he does often nor likes to do. Eye contact for autistic children can be hard to come by, but in this moment he was engaged, available, and willing to participate with me. Something we rarely see. I took for granted a
small huge achievement in my stepson’s willingness to let me in. Now nearly three years later he has grown to tolerate me and I think may have even grown to resent me.
After several months of dating and observing how my then boyfriend now husband ran his household I saw a few things I wasn’t too fond of when it came to his child rearing skills, but this was a tricky sticky subject that I was fully aware had signs written all over it that read CAUTION! I had been married & divorced. I was in the dating pool for quite some time. I learned my lessons about trying to change people. It NEVER works. So I remained fairly quiet.
However our relationship took on a life of its own. We quickly fell for each other in ways neither of us expected and that meant I would have to face these issues or walk away.
The list of hair raising things that quickly began to irritate me were as follows.
- Walks around from room to room in full control of each and every television, DVD player, and computer.
- Rarely sat at kitchen table for meals.
- No schedule, no rules, no accountability for actions that may or may not be appropriately acceptable for an autistic child, let alone a main stream child.
- Regularly removed clothing and walked about the house without anything on.
- Had no limits or boundaries to accessing food on his own. Would help himself to the refrigerator for juice only to empty the bottles down the drain, in the toilet, in pillows, or our computer’s keyboard.
- Had access to father’s bedroom where they once co-slept when he was younger, but often shut his dad out of room to watch video projector on the wall, leaving him to sleep on the couch.
- Writing on walls, furniture, other objects, and himself if left alone with markers or writing implements.
Need I go on???
Three years later we have an entirely different child. I could NOT hold my tongue. My experience as a professional nanny and mother gave way and I spoke about the sticky tricky situation and made my opinions heard. I demanded a schedule appropriately designed for his needs and hired someone qualified to help us get started.
Why? Not just because I loved my husband.
Not just because after telling my stepson “NO!” when he approached the refrigerator for the 5X in a day to attempt to dump yet another bottle of juice somewhere it didn’t belong and retaliated by biting me and hitting me so badly I remained shaken for hours afterward.
I did it because these behaviors baffled me and I saw a child caged by his own inner battles. I felt very strongly that he could participate more, sit down and be still for longer than 5 seconds, and I knew there was someone home even though he chose to keep the lights low with hopes we wouldn’t notice and would continue to allow him to fade further within himself.
It has been a constant battle since those first days. We chose to change things gradually, but did it with tough love and very little room for slack. We demanded eye contact, sitting at the table for all meals, we removed all electronics, distractions, and created an earning system in which he was rewarded for following directions.
His real mother had issues with the changes we made in our home. She claimed he had a tough enough day at school being asked to cooperate. She has vastly different ideals than I do when it comes to how her son with autism should be treated.
I get it. I didn’t wake up one day with my child having a label and a diagnosis. I do not walk in her shoes.
However the realities of this sweet boy being in the world without constant care and help are slim. I saw room for much needed alterations and I made them. For the love of my husband and for the love that began growing between his son and I on that very first day we made a connection.
We are not without days that I feel completely overwhelmed. We still have tantrums upon his arrival every other Friday night when he comes to visit. We still have split second moments when he may be left to his own devices only to empty an entire carton of eggs (although broken neatly and placed in a bowl) or when the entire container of newly purchased fish food winds up in the tank.
We are always learning.
We are coping.
Most importantly we are trying to understand the inner workings of a boy who does not speak and who prefers to slip away, while on the computer, endlessly watching videos on youtube.