“At the Heart of the Matter”
I dropped Cameron off at school about 8:15. He hated school! Most mornings were met with great resistance as he frantically tried to find ways of escape. We had only lived in SC for a few months and we were able to switch schools to have him enrolled in the top autism program in the district, which was a thirty-minute drive from our home. The teachers assured me that Cameron’s anger was due to his inability to comply and that with consistency, it would get better.
He threw up over the backseat that morning begging me not to drop him off at school. I was trying to be strong and so I pushed my feelings aside and continued driving. When we arrived at school, I had to pull around to the drop off point which was on the side of the school. Here I would be met with his special needs teachers and Cameron could avoid having to walk through the noise of the crowds. Each teacher would grab a limb and drag him into school. It was devastating!!! After he made it into the school I would sit in the car and cry. Over and over again we would do this, morning after morning. It was my worst nightmare.
I look back on this time and I am heart broken at my decision to continue as long as I did. I must have second guessed myself a thousand times and felt so conflicted on what was the right thing to do. I arrived home and sat down for such a short time when I received the dreaded but all to predictable call from the school. Once again, Cameron was out of control and I needed to come back to the school. It was at this point that I realized we needed to make a change. Homeschooling was just around the corner and was the best decision we ever made!
It was this transition from public school to home school that I made my most important discovery, and once I made the connection, everything changed! From the time of his diagnosis, all of his therapies and goals were centered around helping him comply….. teaching him how to be as “normal” as possible or in other words to fix him. On the surface, it all seemed harmless and necessary but there was a huge problem with this thinking. Cameron was never meant to be normal and in trying to “fix” him, we inadvertently sent a dangerous message. The message that he was a bad boy… that who he was, deep down inside, was faulty. At first, he tried to comply… to be who he thought we wanted him to be but it was impossible. This internal conflict created between the adult expectations and the boy he was meant to be tugged at the very heart of his God given purpose on this earth. And when one fights against that, you can never be happy. This was the underlying root cause of his deep set anger and subsequent behavior problems.
I didn’t necessarily change much of “what” I did, but this change in focus altered the reasons for everything and the fall out of this change was monumental. I can’t express enough the importance of doing the right things for the right reasons. Our focus changed to accepting Cameron’s differences and honoring those things that make him unique. Over the next four years, the changes in his behavior and personality were nothing short of astounding. He began to smile, to laugh, to explore and truly live. Ironically, as I sit here writing this, a new study was just published about autism entitled “shocking wake-up call” for society. It states, “people who show characteristics of autism are more at risk of attempting suicide…. because they felt they were excluded from society, were a burden on friends and family, and because they experienced depression.” Folks, this is exactly what I am talking about and this was my experience. This change in his believing he was faulty to an acceptance and then embracing those differences has changed his life and ours.
The challenges have not gone away completely and I find myself saying things like, “why can’t my 19 yr old do this very basic thing…” and that’s the trap. I forget that he was never meant to be “normal” and that what he is and has to bring to the table is not only enough but of significant value. The challenge is for educators, therapists, parents and ultimately society to be able to work with these kids to improve abilities to function while still honoring who they already are at the heart and what they have to offer. I think that what makes this so tricky is that we are used to focusing on “fixing” when we involve help. But this is not a typical mental handicap we are talking about but rather I see it more as a personality difference.
My challenge to you is to take a step back and re-evaluate the motives behind the methods because that changes everything……