“If someone you love hurts you, cry a river, build a bridge and get over it.” An anonymous quote, but I could hug the person who said it. Actually, I’d like to smack them first and then hug them. Misery does love it some company, and a broken heart hurts like the dickens, but eventually I’d see the light, agree with them and move on. Getting over things has been the melody my life has been set to and it’s the attitude I have tried to instill in my children. Well, the neurologically typical one, at any rate. With my younger one, my son, whose life is molded by autism … not so much.
One of the first things you learn about autism is that sensory overload makes it so that an autistic person feels that their sense are “tuned to 11” or on overload, for those of you not familiar with the Spinal Tap reference (rent it – it’s worth it). In our house, the first decade of my boy’s life meant a lot of diffusing sensory defensiveness situations, dealing with things like vacuums, barking dogs, highly aromatic kitchens, etc. The senses my kid had were so ridiculously sensitive that I only wished he saw dead people like that kid in the movie. It would have been SO much easier to explain to people, because they weren’t also so patient with the other five.
Over time, I learned that to slay his dragons my son had to first face them. Vacuums were one of his greatest fears (no discernible pitches – to the autistic kid with perfect pitch, the ultimate of nightmares) so I took him kicking and screaming to B&L vacuum and sewing center, a local repair and re-sale shop, and forced him to touch every single vacuum in the place. Thank heavens it was empty the afternoon we went and the proprietor was a sweetheart who allowed me to do so (after I briefly yelled the details of the situation to him) and let me come back again and again – desensitizing my boy to the creature that frightened him so. In a few months, my son could enter the homes of my friends … after they let him see their vacuum, tucked safely away in their linen closet or garage. No more tantrums. We moved on.
Other senses were dealt with in a similar way breaking them down a little at a time, over and over again. One of the best, most painful (yet strangely joyful) things, I ever subjected my child to at age five was special needs equine therapy at Carousel Ranch for conquering other auditory, olfactory and physical senses as there is nothing like visiting a horse ranch on a hot, windy Southern California day to assault every sense you own. I’ll spare you all of the details, but here’s a taste for you folks at home: horseflies, horse manure, horse hair, eau du horse, etc. It’s not paint-by-numbers, but I know you get the picture. By fifth grade, NOTHING in this big wide world upset my son’s senses ever again.
Along came the teenage years, and we’ve discovered a new Achilles Heel … the heart.
Even Oz’s Tin Man, who the Wizard tried to tell how lucky he was not to have one, said, “Now I know I’ve got a heart, ‘cause it’s breaking.” It’s not so easy to verbalize matters of the heart when you’re a kid with a language processing disorder. A robotic literary, ultimately cinematic, galvanized hunk of junk did better. But, my boy does what he can.
Today, I had to cancel all of my piano lessons because my son came home with a thousand disappointments of the heart. Lest you think only love can break a heart, you are mistaken (and possibly steeped way too deeply in Toto or David Gates songs). Today my boy’s heart was hurting over multiple upsets -- the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas sent an email saying we cannot stop by to see their elevators for 10-15 minutes during our Elevator Tour 2010 (some moms take their kids to comic book conventions – I take mine to see his passion: elevators) due to security reasons (I get it and respect it, but my boy doesn’t); he is overwhelmed by all of his math classes and is incredibly afraid of failing Business Math and disappointing his teacher (he has six classes a day. three of them are math classes and he has an ‘A’ in all of them); he sad because he never gets to see his “favorite girls’ anymore (because they are either older or a year behind and still in elementary school) while everyone else on his junior high campus has girlfriends and he doesn’t even have friends; and today when he needed his mommy most she was on the way out the door to teach piano to other people’s children. With three heartbeats in the house today (one of them belonging to the cat), two of them were broken.
The books prepare you for most things on the autism spectrum in relation to cognitive and physical delays and the problems with socialization – but I can tell you from experience that all of the experts in the world cannot prepare you for the delicate matters of the heart. Poets can’t. Minstrels can’t. What made me think that those equipped with doctorate degrees and lab experience could do any better? How can you mend a broken heart, anyway? I mean, if the BeeGees didn’t know what hope is there for the rest of us?
For three hours this evening, there were tears, tantrums, shrieking and whole lot of speaking going on. Finally, I put my foot down and I forced my son to walk with me around our cul-de-sac. I explained that we needed to get outside (of the house and self) and greet the neighbors and “find normal” – because sometimes you have to fake it until you can make it. Eventually, it worked. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. When we returned home, my young man was able to regain his equilibrium and a little perspective.
By bedtime, the tears had dried and my boy surprised me by saying, “Someday when I grow up you might not be here, Mommy. But, I will have a wife instead.” I kissed his head and made a wish for no broken hearts along the way or, at the very least, the ability to build his bridge to get over it – until he finds another who will take care of his tender heart and love him all the more for it.