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Best of the Best and Worst of the Worst I was rockin’ out to music on the way to our country dentist when the announcer broke in with results of a social media study, comparing positive and negative posts. He reported that the effects of a positive post lasts only a few seconds. In contrast, the effects of a negative post last much longer. And the negative posts always reflect poorly on the person who posts them. In other words, the bad memories tend to stick. My son, Paul is 29 and lives on the mild to moderate end of the autism spectrum. We needed a dentist who participates with Medicaid. Paul had broken a second molar, by way of gnashing of teeth. You should see these back chompers now. The dentist made up some unbreakable composite of silver. Paul manages quite well, actually. All things considered, his tics and stimming. Paul is the most regimented, disciplined athlete and the most spiritually intelligent person I know. This time, the dentist visit was for me. I have TMD. That’s Temporomandibular Disorder. My jaw pops in and out of joint every time I open and close my mouth. The dentist says it’s caused by stress. Hmmm, as an autie parent, I wonder why? For this piece, I’ll write both. The worst and the best. I’ll start with the bad news first. When Paul was four, we had a great Christmas with him and his two younger brothers, back in 1994. He was so engaged, so conversational, so with us, through the cookie making, the candy canes on the tree, the two bikes with training wheels, (“Scotty gotta bike too!” Paul said of his younger brother). He shared. He partied. He was in the Christmas spirit. But then, the day after Christmas, he shut down. He didn’t talk for three days. Three long days. That was a worst. Later, knowing Paul wasn’t ready for conventional school, I homeschooled him. I was expecting our fifth child, (we have six), and I realized that we’d hit a plateau. He wasn’t reading. I was afraid that not only would he stagnate in academics, but that he’d start rolling back down the hill. I enrolled him halfway through the year in a private school for kindergarten, even though he was, age-wise, a first-grader. So when he entered first grade at the public school, he was in the same class as his younger brother, Scott, who was the neurotypical six-year-old. A close second for the worst moment was when I got the notes after the first day of first grade. In harried scrawl, I read with trembling hands,“He doesn’t pay attention! Won’t focus!” As if Paul were doing it on purpose. Needless to say, I expected the notes, but they still broke my heart. Back then, I didn’t know that autism ranged from mild to severe. I thought you either had autism or you didn’t. You know, like the movie “Rainman"? At eight years old, Paul was then tested and enrolled in a super-duper special-ed program the following January. He learned to read in a special portable classroom, with two teachers who taught only five boys, Paul’s age. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve grown. Paul has grown. And we are proud. Paul now 29, lives with us. We are his legal guardians. He doesn’t drive. He wants a girlfriend, but that isn’t possible. He struggles with OCD, real bad. He’s battled depression and anxiety that hits a 10 on the Richter scale. Every day is a challenge. Our other children promise that someday when my hubby and I are too feeble to drive Paul around, they will care for him. Now, because I like happy endings, I’ll share with you the best of the best. Paul is an elite runner. He runs 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons. When he was in high school, he and his two brothers were all on the same cross-country team and they won the North Carolina 1A class state championship. That was a best moment. Then there are the everyday best moments. Two come to mind. The first is when Paul climbs the stairs every morning on his way to the coffee pot, making the sign of the cross, touching his forehead, chest, and shoulders from left to right, and says, “Lord, please bless me today.” When he sits down to his microwaved gluten-free meals every day (which he fixes by himself), he prays, “Bless us O Lord, in these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, AMEN!” But here is the Best of the Best: I wrote a book called Paul’s Prayers: A Mother’s Account of Raising an Autistic Son. It was published in March of 2018. When I brought home an advanced reader’s copy to show Paul, I felt a bit of trepidation about how he’d react. He saw himself pictured on its beautiful sky blue cover. I’d taken the photo from the inside of a lifeguard stand, where Paul’s back is towards me, on the beach. When I said, “I have something to show you," and pulled the book out from behind my back, he pointed to his picture, saying, “That’s me!” Then he pointed to the title and said, “My prayers!” Then he said, “No Mom, really, that’s amazing.” Then he hugged me. So, yes, the negative, the darkness seems to swallow up the light, a lot of the time. It’s a struggle to crawl out of the pit. I don’t need to tell you, my reader, that the light is a climb. But I will remind you that it’s a climb worth climbing. Let’s live there a little, every day. Because the best of Paul helps the worst of autism seem not so bad. Let’s let that stick.
Copyright 2019 Susan Anderson