Optimism and Autism

My son has Autism. He is eleven years old. I have learned that optimism is a trap.

Optimism: hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.

My husband and I have been married for 20 years. I think we were optimistic in the beginning. We thought that all we had to do was work hard and the world would be ours. The Universe apparently thought that was  a challenge. We’ve been through a lot of difficulties and trials. Life hasn’t always been easy, but sometimes we do alright and sometimes we don’t. Autism has taken us to a whole new level.

I was optimistic that we could handle this new complicated life together, but instead we’ve had to give a lot up including being in the same geographic location. He works away from home because that is the only way we can make enough money for me to be a stay at home mom and still afford all the bills, medical or otherwise. I tried working, but it wasn’t worth it. Child care for a special needs kiddo is hard to come by and I had to keep leaving work to take care of problems that arose with my son.

It hasn’t been easy for my daughter either. She’s had to give up a lot and she’s had to adjust to getting less attention because of her brother. Being optimistic that I could pay attention to both of my kiddos at the same time was unrealistic. I’ve learned that kind of optimism leaded to hurt feelings and overwhelming parental failure. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to find time to devote to my daughter completely even if it means that she  has to skip some school to get it.

Like Sisyphus and the boulder, we start every day at the bottom of the hill.

Day after day, we get up and try.  There are a lot of things to learn when you have a child with Autism; behavioral, medical, dietary, psychological, methods, routines, etc. They all play a crucial role in a stable life. The things that worked yesterday don’t necessarily work today. Sometimes they have the opposite effect. Teachers ask me how to handle my son and I have to say, “Well, that depends on the day.”

Friends don’t really understand why we don’t do things like they do. Most of them feel that I’m being too overprotective and honestly I’m too tired to try and explain it to them. They are always optimistic that my son will be fine. That there will be no problems. Birthday parties, concerts, fairs, we’ve been to them all. We’ve dealt with the migraines and the over stimulation meltdowns and the violence that comes from them.  I’ve pushed that boulder up that hill enough times that I know our limitations. If they want to think badly of me then so be it. 

The teachers at school ask me what my long term goals are for my son. I usually laugh and say, “To get through today.” You have to have optimism in order to have goals, and I don’t.

Optimism has never been one of my strong suits. I’m not one of those people born under a lucky star where everything went right and the world was a bright and sunny place. Things don’t just work out for me. I get by on my brains and my abundance of personality. Things happen. I  deal with them. I’m a realist.

Realist: a person who accepts a situation as it is and is prepared to deal with it accordingly.

Optimism can give you a false sense of reality and make you really unhappy because you are always struggling to meet unrealistic expectations.

I know that we are making progress, but to try and  reach a certain milestone in a certain amount of time is more stress than I can handle right now. Don’t get me wrong, I want my son to learn and blossom into a happy healthy adult, but it will have to happen in its own time. I’m just being realistic. I know that my son makes leaps forward only to backslide. That doesn’t make me try any less. I just takes away the expectations and that takes away the disappointments and the feelings of failure.  No one needs those kind of feelings in their life.

People laugh at me when they ask me, “How are you?” and I answer, “Still alive.” I see it as an affirmation that I’m still here. I’m still trying. I am living for the now taking each day as best as I can. I’ve lowered my expectations to the level of “Everyone is still breathing, so we’re doing great.”

So for those of you out there struggling to be optimistic about your children’s autism, it’s going to be all right. You don’t have to be sunny, or cheerful, or optimistic. You just have to accept your life has changed. It’s okay. All you have to do is love your kiddos. That’s the reality .Go with the Zen approach. All there is is the now. They are who they are and that’s okay. They don’t have to be anything else and neither do you.

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