Sawyer is an incredibly endearing and often hilarious 7-year-old. He is kind, inquisitive, outgoing and incredibly handsome. He faces the challenges autism throws at him with admirable determination. The meltdowns, the sensory overload that fills his days, and his lack of special awareness are an example of the threads that tie Sawyer and autism together. Forever. They are traits that have always existed, will always be there, and that he simply cannot help.
But that doesn’t make them any less annoying.
I know I know, but hear me out.
Someone recently said to me that Sawyer is lucky to have a mummy who understands him so well, and who does so much to make him as happy as possible, despite his disability. And to an extent I suppose she was right. I do educate myself. I take time to think of what is best for Sawyer, and I never, ever stop fighting for him. I write about the battles we face, the obstacles we overcome, and my hopes for his future, because I want to spread awareness and contribute towards building a more inclusive future. But what I haven’t ever written about is that just because I work hard to understand my son’s additional needs, doesn’t mean I always get it right.
On Monday of this week, Sawyer suffered autistic meltdown of catastrophic proportion. It isn’t something I’ve seen in many months, but a change to his normal school routine sent him into a spiral of confusion and mistrust that we are still feeling aftershocks of today – 5 days later. I understand the reasons why he found school difficult this week, and I certainly did as much as I could to limit the damage. But let me tell you this: Just because I understand the reasons behind it all, doesn’t mean it can’t fuck up my day.
Just because I fully sympathise, doesn’t make it easier to face. In fact the opposite is true, because when you understand the reasons fully, and you still can’t suppress the feelings of frustration and annoyance, what follows every single time – is guilt.
As a treat for both children today, we planned a family day out to a local animal rescue shelter. Our daughter is desperate to get bunny rabbits. She’s named them, knows where to buy them, has decided which type of hutch they need, and has very matter-of-factly told us that our cat will be fine with it because we had a bunny rabbit before (“And once, he even slept in the cage because Mummy didn’t know he was in there and she locked him in!”).
Yes, thank you, Piper.
It was clear Sawyer wasn’t coping from the second we got out of the car. The weather here in the UK at the moment is sweaty and close. It isn’t something we are used to (as you’ll find out from any chatty cashier) and for Sawyer it is even more of a discomfort. Whereas I wipe the beading sweat moustache from my upper lip and fan my face with random pieces of paper, Sawyer starts to spin in circles. He starts to get clumsy, drop things, seek out sensory stimulation by getting as close to me as possible, even if it means standing directly in front me whilst I’m walking in a straight line, just so he can feel the resistance when we crash. Today, the smell of animals was too much. The sounds were all too much. The heat was too much. And it is always, always heartbreaking to see him like that.
But yes, you guessed it, sometimes it is annoying.
I am a mum of two small children, with an ever-evolving career, a busy schedule, and only so much patience. I work hard to understand autism, and I certainly do my best to make Sawyer as happy and comfortable as possible, but in day-to-day life there really is only so much you can do. You cannot have all the answers. You cannot think about autism every second of the day and block all other experiences to deal with just one. I have another child. I have other responsibilities. I have other thoughts. And sometimes, I’m just fucking knackered.
So this post goes out to all parents of young children, whether they are autistic or not. If you’ve poured yourself a massive glass of wine and are currently sat telling yourself what a bad parent you are, and wondering if maybe your kids weren’t that bad after all:
You’re doing your best.
And they probably were.