There are certain moments, on certain days that I forget just how out of the ordinary certain pieces of our life must seem to the world outside of our home. And the world inside of our home becomes a little more defined and nurtured and enriched each day as we journey forward. It is shaped by each of us. By the way we interact together. We live together inside these walls… me, my husband, my sons, and autism.
There are so many unusual things that are just part of the way we do life. And some days I forget that these things are not a part of other families. I forget that many of the things that happen in our house do not happen in other homes. I forget how alarming they were when we first experienced them. I forget that our “normal” is anything but normal.
And maybe I forget because it makes it easier to navigate forward. Maybe I forget because forgetting is easier than remembering. I forget because forgetting helps me to embrace our normal. Forgetting makes our normal feel like a real normal. And normal feels good.
So I forget. But it only takes an instant to remember.
In just one instant it all comes rushing back. It only take an instant to remember just how un-normal our normal really is.
In that instant our friends sit in our kitchen consoling their young child who has fallen. I look onto them with concern as they wipe away tears. From the corner of my eye I see my son enter the room. I watch as he approaches the child. His movements are so soft. He slowly walks up close to the child. On the outside he looks calm. From across the room I look on in horror. Because I know what happens next. I know he is not calm. I quickly move in. Midstride I see my son lift his hand and slap the child across the face.
I freeze. We all freeze.
The child cries even louder than before. The parents shift their focus from my child back to their child. I quickly usher my son away from them. We are all moving. But we are still frozen. Frozen in that moment. Frozen in all of the questions they want to ask. Frozen in the explanations I want to give. Frozen in all of the normal things that parents feel: worry, concern, love, compassion, and everything in between.
I apologize. I apologize because when your child hits another child, you apologize. No matter the circumstances. No matter the cause. No matter the diagnosis. I apologize for what happened to their child. And as I apologize I search my head for more words to say.
The thing that happens next is a thing that happens often on this journey. I set out to explain something that I do not understand. I search for the right way to explain my son’s alarming behavior. An alarming behavior that has become a very normal part of life inside of our home. An alarming behavior that I know is anything but normal.
You see, when other children express intense emotion: laughter, fear, tears, my son hits them. He hits them, and I have no idea why.
I think he struggles to understand the emotions of others. I think there is an underlying sensory cause. I think maybe the sound is too much for him. I think he wants to quiet the noise. I think he believes that hitting is a solution to stop the noise. I think he know the words, but struggles to use them in the moment. I think he knows that words are better than hitting, but that logic escapes him when he feels overwhelmed. I think that is the sensory piece. I think he is confused. I think he experiences the moment differently than I do. I think his behavior is driven by a need I do not understand. I think it may be driven by a need that he does not understand either.
I think a lot of things. But, I do not know anything.
I do not know what it is. I do not know where it comes from. I do not know why he does it. I do not know what need it fills. I do not know any of these things. Because I do not feel or hear or see or process things the same way as my son.
I do not know what it is. But I do know what it is not.
It is not my child being naughty. It is not a breakdown in parenting. It is not a lack of kindness. It is not bullying. It is not mean spirited. It is not a lack of love. It is not deliberate. It is not planned. It does not have an off switch. It is not something that I can punish or bribe or wish away. (Because believe me, I have tried).
It is a part of him. It is a part of his sensory processing disorder. And, in our house, it is something that we have learned to live with. We know to protect our youngest son when he is crying. We move through moments like this without missing a beat. Because if we miss a beat, our youngest son gets hurt. And that hurts both of our sons.
Because the moment is short lived. Because just seconds after he hits he is overcome with his on sadness and remorse. He is a sweet. He is nurturing. He is quick to show kindness to others. He sees a child fall from across the playground and will check on them fifty times before leaving. He is kind and compassionate. He makes real connections. He loves purely. Feels deeply. And he feels terrible after he hits someone who is feeling sad.
He cannot stop it. He cannot control it. But, we are working on it every day. We read social stories about processing feelings and sounds and situations. Each day we work to understand his behaviors and the needs that drive them. And a lot of the time we move forward, but sometimes we move backwards to.
I can only imagine how the pieces of our life must look from the outside. But I do not live outside. I am here on the inside. Working hard. Pushing forward. Giving love. Teaching kindness. Learning to embrace this life and all of the un-normal normal that it is.