Just a little over 2 years ago, a very sweet, very special friend of mine passed away, and he's been on my mind a lot the past few days.
Maybe it's the looming specter of Wyatt's impending adolescence that's made me think about him, like Wyatt he was also on the autism spectrum. He had Aspergers Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism.
2 years from now, Wyatt will be starting Jr High School. It's a frightening thought for me, I know what it's like to be different, to not fit in, and I remember very vividly just how cruel children can be to someone who doesn't fit into the mainstream. Wy knows he's different, to a degree, but he hasn't had to deal too much with teasing because he's in a specialized classroom for the majority of the school day. He's been mainstreaming over the last couple of years, and he's doing well enough that his teacher and I have agreed to increase the amount of time he spends in a typical 4th grade class, but it's a mixed blessing. On one hand I'm delighted that he's able to keep up academically, that he's working almost completely on grade level. On the other hand, I worry about the day he comes home crying because someone looking to climb further up the playground social ladder called him a retard.
A friend of mine told me once that our job as parents is to teach our children how to live in this world without us, and that it starts the moment they cut the cord.
Lesson 1, breathe on your own.
Everything I've done with Wyatt, from the day he was diagnosed with a developmental delay, has been working towards that end. The sign language, the speech therapy, the play therapy, social interaction, tactile and auditory desensitization, the countless other therapies and behavior modification tools we've brought into out arsenal, all aimed at helping him learn to function as independently as he possibly can.
I'm very hopeful for his future. I have no reason to think that he won't go to college, have a job, and eventually live on his own. But the next 10 years are going to as hard, if not harder than his toddler hood was, for both of us.
Maybe that's why my friend has been on my mind so much lately. The suicide rate for teens with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism is believed to be much higher than in typically developing teens, unfortunately I haven't been able to find a solid figure. But it makes sense. Adolescence is difficult enough, with the growth spurts and raging hormones. Add in the social difficulties of Autism- the inability to read social cues, difficulty carrying on a "normal" conversation, the sensory overload, the jerks and hand flapping, and it's easy to see why so many autistic teens are on medication for depression and anxiety.
Right now, I guess all I can do is to continue working with Wy on social skills, and make sure he knows every day that he's loved and accepted for exactly who he is. Hopefully I've given him what he needs in terms of self esteem, to carry him through the rough waters ahead.
So, as a reminder to myself, and in memory of Chris, I'm reposting the blog I wrote shortly after Chris died.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
My heart is aching right now for a mother in Canada. I've never met her, I don't even know her name, but I'm crying for her just the same.
I knew her son, first from the Vote For The Worst message board, then from another site that we were both on. Last night this sweet, funny, and very sad young man took his life. He was 16.
I'm devastated by the loss of a boy that I thought of like a nephew. I'm sad that such a great kid thought so little of himself that he felt the world would be better off without him. I'm also so angry at him for doing this to himself.
I think about my own son who is starting college next week, and how I'll be spending this weekend helping him move into his dorm. I think about all the expense, the drive up to NY, the cost of tuition and books, worrying about him being on his own.
Then I think about this boys mother, who will never experience any of this with her son. I think about how empty her house must feel. I can see her closing the door to the bedroom where he died because to look in there is just to painful. I picture her holding his first grade picture in her hands, trying to understand what happened to her beautiful little boy. I imagine her pouring over every second of the past few days, searching for clues, trying to understand, desperately wanting to turn back the clock to the second before he decided to end his brief life so she can wrap him in her arms and tell him how very precious he is to her.
My heart is aching for a mother in Canada right now.
So, in honor of that mother, I will hold both of my boys close to my heart. I will whisper in their ear, and tell them how precious they are to me.