No, not that talk. The one about autism.
As I have posted before, we have talked to Cuddlebug and Bearhug before in general terms about some of their challenges (and strengths) relating to autism / SPD, but we haven’t actually gotten into the technical terminology before.
Until now, that is. As I’ve mentioned, they have a new resource teacher this year, and we got an “introduction” letter from her over the summer. One thing she touched on was wanting to know how much the students know about autism, do they know they have it, and to what degree are we comfortable with her discussing it with them. The reason being, at this age they are only 2 years away from middle school and will soon be at age where they do need to be more able to advocate for themselves. She also mentioned in the letter that sometimes the kids hear her being referred to as a “special ed teacher” and want to know why they have a special ed teacher. Makes sense.
So… I wanted to be able to give her permission to talk to the boys about autism, but I wanted them to hear about it from us first. Dh and I talked about it, and then I waited for good opportunity to talk with the boys.
It turned out to be in the car, on the way home from taking them to the fountains at the park to play. Bitty was home with dh, so it was just the three of us in the car, and having just had the opportunity for so much sensory fun, they were in a good state of mind to be able to have a discussion without being too distractable, if that makes sense.
So I asked them casually if they had ever heard of “autism.” They both said no, but they were interested in finding out what it was.
“It’s when someone’s brain works a little differently than most people.” I answered, purposely using the same wording that we have used in talking to them about their specific issues before.
They both immediately recognized that and said excitedly, “Oh, I think WE have that!” I told them that yes, they do, and we talked a little bit more about what that means. Bearhug asked if that has anything to do with his “special effect” (the name he has taken to calling his um, outbursts, which thankfully have been few and far between in recent months). I told him that yes, I think that is part of it, and we talked a little bit about sensory issues specifically, and how it can be easy to get overwhelmed sometimes.
They thought about that for a few minutes, and I got a little concerned that they might get too preoccupied with the whole thing (after all, these are the same boys who get overly worried about things like mesothelioma and allergies after seeing commercials about them on tv). So I told them, “you know, it’s not really a big deal.”
Bearhug: “ok… because it SOUNDS like kind of a big deal.”
me: “well, it’s important to know, but it’s not a big deal in the sense that it’s not anything you need to be worried about. Just something that’s helpful to know. Everyone has something that can make their life a little harder sometimes, so understanding what that is for you can be helpful.”
Then Cuddlebug asked about a friend of theirs that has asthma, “that makes his life harder too.”
I figured that was a reasonably good comparison so I went with it, and told them that yes, just like asthma can make some things harder their friend, autism will make some things harder for them. It seemed to click, and we went on to talk about all the things that are hard for some people (one of mine – I have no internal clock so it is really hard for me to keep track of time).
After we got home, it occurred to me to tell them that their little brother also has autism, so we had a short chat about that too. I told them that is why he is still working on learning to talk (they get frustrated at times with his communication skills and have asked about it at times), and part of why he has his meltdowns sometimes (the other part being, well, he’s five).
It was a relatively short discussion, and no doubt there will be many more over the years. But I felt pretty good about it, and felt like it opened the door for us to talk about more things, and more specifics, as time goes on. I’ve talked with their resource teacher about how she handles the discussions at school and feel comfortable with her approach. She also assures me that she’ll keep us posted on how those discussions go and any questions the boys have so we can address them at home too.