Mother’s Day 2010 will truly be a day of celebration of motherhood for me. This past year has been all about personal growth for me as a mother. I have recognized my strengths, tackled my weaknesses, and finally realized that I am a great mother — all because of my son Sam’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
I have written about varying aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome before, but never so personally. It was one year ago in April that we finally got Sam’s diagnosis, and it was such a relief. Finally I had a name for what ails my son — Asperger’s Syndrome.
For years, I had struggled as a mother. Sam was a handful on the good days, an absolute terror on the bad days. He bit people. He hit people. He was rude and demanding. He knew the rules, but he couldn’t seem to follow them. He had so many fears — paralyzing fears that would stop him dead in his tracks and cause him to just scream. He seemed incapable of empathy. He did not play well with others. I feared for my daughter’s safety.
It became routine for me to have to pick him up from daycare, and then later from preschool, because he was acting out and they weren’t able to control him.
I tried everything to get him to behave. I did the reward charts and celebrated his good behavior. I punished him (usually by grounding him, but occasionally with a spanking) for his bad behavior. I tried bribes, threats, promises.
It wasn’t long before I really started doubting my capabilities as a mother. I would look at the other children with their mothers and think, “Why can’t my son do that? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me?”
I went to every parenting class I could find. I attended a 12-week “nurturing” program — not once, but twice. I took “Love and Logic” classes. I contacted Social Services and took a “common sense” parenting class from them. Not only did I take these classes, but I used what I learned in our household. I had the family rules posted on the refrigerator. I clearly explained to Sam what my expectations were. I was consistent with my parenting. Still… nothing seemed to work.
I wasn’t the only person who thought I was a failure as a mother. His father had started doubting me. My mother didn’t have any advice for me. School officials frowned at me. Parents of Sam’s classmates gossiped about me. Co-workers complained, shook their heads at me, and told me what I should and shouldn’t be doing with my son. I cried constantly, thinking I just wasn’t cut out to be a mother.
But then I joined a single parents support group online, and I began chatting with a single father from Maine. I told him what I was going through with Sam, and he said, “Oh, that sounds like my son. Does he have Asperger’s Syndrome too?”
I remember very clearly the feeling I had when I read those words. Could it be? Does my son have something, some disorder, that would cause him to behave the way he does? I finally had some hope.
I immediately began to research Asperger’s Syndrome, and I came across an article on Wikipedia. “Lack of demonstrated empathy” — check. “Social awkwardness” — check. “May engage in one-sided, long-winded conversations about a favorite topic” — check. “Unusually sophisticated language” — check. “Weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language that include humor, irony, and teasing” — check!
The more I read, the more I knew, without a doubt, that Sam had Asperger’s Syndrome. I just knew. Several months later, I had the official diagnosis.
It’s been a year since I found out I’m raising a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. The best advice his doctor could have given me was this: You aren’t going to change him. What you need to do now is learn how to be the mother of a child with autism.
This is why I’m celebrating this Mother’s Day. I have done just that — I have learned about Asperger’s Syndrome and learned specifically how it affects my son. I’ve changed my attitude from “what am I doing wrong” to “look at everything I’m doing right.”
For the first time in my life, I am confident that I am not only a good mother, but a fantastic mother.