Big Brother was diagnosed with Aspergers in 2009, when he was eight years old. Before that, it was years of evaluations and developmental preschools and speech therapists . . . years of teachers bringing their concerns to me and me taking those concerns to doctors . . . and years of misdiagnoses. It was years of meltdowns and vomiting and aggression and wandering feet, running feet and hearing him say things like “I’m a bad son. I’m going to let a car hit me,” as those feet took him out the front door.
And then that moment, that singular sentence, “Your son is on the spectrum,” changed everything . . . and changed nothing. It was just the bittersweet official recognition that he was, in fact, atypical.
We’ve had years between then and now where he has had the right intervention and great therapists and over three years of homeschooling . . . years in which he has blossomed, learned how to manage his emotions, how to calm his mind, how to control his vomiting . . . years in which he has developed into a young man I hardly recognize.
As we went shopping the other night, I asked him which store we should go to. Big Brother replied, “Target. I like the way Target feels.” I laughed. Inside I was so grateful that he is now at an age where he can express those things so clearly to me. He can tell me that Target feels good and Walmart makes him uncomfortable . . . though why it’s that way is still hard for him to pinpoint. That he can tell me that, in a calm manner, in casual conversation, is a miracle.
We went down his school list and he didn’t argue with me that the list specifically stated “Crayola colored pencils.” He watched me put the cheapest generic brand in the basket without complaint. In fact, he said, “Why would anyone buy the others? These are so much cheaper.” It made my heart smile. He has learned to see the gray in the world.
Clothes are still a bit tricky. He will most likely always have sensory issues and he was irritated with me for making him try them all on . . . and try them on again . . . and again. We started in the boys section. The size 18’s were too small. We reluctantly (ok, maybe I was the only one reluctant) moved up to the men’s section. The smallest size, 26 x 28, was also too small. I had to buy my 12-year-old men’s jeans in size 28 x 30!!!! My mama-heart broke just a touch, while his grin spread a little further and he settled his voice as low as he could and said, “I’m a man now.”
He’s been “practicing” his man voice for the last few weeks. It started when he came home from his first ever scout campout. It was his first overnighter without family. I was incredibly nervous, mostly that he’d end up with a migraine from the heat or that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. But he came home all in one piece, his voice a little rough from his outdoor frolicking, and his younger brother asked, “Did your voice get deeper?” To which he replied, “Why, yes. It did. That’s because I’m a man now.” Ever since, he has been turning on his man voice whenever he’s feeling particularly manly. It’s awesome.
On the way home from our excursion, having purchased all the paper and socks and erasers and folders he would need, he asked if I could stop and buy him a second dinner because obviously he was growing and needed all the calories he could get to support his new-found manhood. How could I say no? While we waited in the drive-thru, he pleasantly chatted with me about all the stories he wants to write. Stories of aliens and pirates and civil wars. He calls the collection Silly Slip-ups.
The first is about invading aliens who, it turns out, are only here to invade our department stores in their search for white undershirts. In the second story, there is a band of sea-loving pirates who kidnap people who hate seafood. They then spend hours forcing seafood down their hatches in an attempt to create a seafood-loving army. The last story (well, the last he’s thought of so far) is about a decades long civil war in Japan that all started one night as two brothers fought over the proper way to eat sushi.
I sat in the drivers seat smiling and trying not to cry as I wracked my brain trying to remember when his imagination became so unscripted, when he became so great at communicating his thoughts. Once there was a boy who only quoted movies and played in pre-scripted worlds and who rarely, if ever, understood humor. Now, there sat beside me a young man with a brainful of his own hilarious inventions. When did that happen?
Don’t get me wrong. Big Brother is still very much an Aspie. But it seems that he is evolving ever so slowly into his own brand of awesomeness. Truth be told, he was always awesome. It was just hard to see past all the vomit and crying. He occasionally still tosses his cookies at the mention of things like spiders or flies. He still cringes at the sound of popsicle wrappers and styrofoam. He still can’t stand the smell of rice or handle the texture of shredded meat. He still pulls away from unwanted physical touch. He still exhibits intermittent social faux-pas that are hard to watch. He still misses facial cues and subtle hints that I’m not interested in listening for hours on end about bionicles or sharks or whatever he’s obsessing over at the moment. But in all his quirkiness, he is beautiful . . . and awesome.
Have hope, Mamas. They do grow up.