He doesn’t ask for much…. largely because he lacks the words to communicate his desires. His frustrations spill into his days like tears dripping from dirty little cheeks and I wish I was always able to guess what it is he is searching for. My primal instinct, as a mother, is to meet the needs and wants of my children but sometimes Autism, and life, makes that task more difficult that I would have ever imagined.
When I can guess what he wants before his anger begins to boil over, it is a victory! It is a victory that I celebrate in my heart as if it were his first steps or his first smile. For just a moment we are one on this battle field and we share a little happy dance – sometimes quite literally – and we get to chalk one up to the good guys. Other times I scramble through his picture cards, offering him options upon options, hoping that one of these little 2 by 2 scraps of paper would contain his hearts desires. Still, there are times, when he screams and he cries and he throws things while I feel like joining him in his little fit because I have absolutely no idea what he wants or needs and he has no way to tell me. Every day can’t be a victory.
That leads me to tonight. Tonight we had a victory! I put my sleepy little man in his bed and he screamed! He screamed like I was hurting him, like the bed had suddenly been changed to broken glass and he was frantically trying to escape the torture. The scream turns into a loud “No!” and he begins to tear at the bed, throwing blankets, his Toy Story pillow and countless stuffed animals in a teary eyed frenzy. I’m desperate to figure out what is wrong, but, I fail horribly. Suddenly, he drops to his knees and begins to claw at the little Winnie the Pooh characters that are on his sheet then begins to pull the sheet with all of the strength he can muster. It dawns on me – I put a clean sheet on his bed! He has soaked the bed this morning and I had thrown the Diego sheet in the wash and put a Pooh sheet on – no problem right? Wrong! How was I to know that he was on the outs with Winnie and his friends? How was I to know that A.A. Milne’s playful forest friends were “So last Tuesday!”.
I grab another sheet from the drawer – this time Spongebob Squarepants (don’t judge! lol) and hold it directly in front of his eyes trying to get his attention. It takes a full minute for him to calm down enough to hear me talking and acknowledge that I am holding another sheet. He immediately calms down and starts to whip the tears from his cheeks with the backs of his tiny little hands. He makes that sad little gasping sound that small children make when they have been crying so hard that they can’t even catch their breath. I have tears welling up in my eyes – saddened by how upset he is, but, happy to have been able to figure out what it is that he was so upset about.
I scoop him up, pull the apparently offensive Pooh sheet off of the bed and throw it in an overly silly gesture towards the bedroom door …. and he smiles. I put the SpongeBob sheet on, gather the stuffed animals, blankets and pillow and tuck my littlest man into bed. He is still making little short noises as he continues to struggle to breath calmly, but, he is smiling at me – his hero. And I am smiling right back.
To an outsider, he may seem spoiled. To an outsider, I may seem like a terrible mom for giving in to his fairly ridiculous demands. To an outsider, we might seem like we are making a million mistakes – and maybe we are. But, for tonight, my son is smiling and I was able to figure out what was making him so upset and remedy it for him.
That’s all I want, and, it’s all he wants too. A simple sheet is not too big a request for that little smile.