One incredible change that occurred in my son Moose during the past year is his ability to sit through an entire movie. At the movie theatre. Without special accommodations in lighting and volume. In his seat, the entire time without tantrums or sensory overload. Moose sits entranced, soaking in what is a rite of passage of childhood: matinees with our family. Whenever school break hits, Moose asks for “movies”. Later this summer, the movie Planes hits theatres. We saw the trailer for Planes a few months back. Whenever there’s an underdog in the lead, I’m moved to tears. Moose, like the main character, Dusty, has his odds stacked against him. Without the ability to really communicate with those around him, Moose can seem less capable than other kids. Sure, Moose is making requests, but he still isn’t conversational.
People often assume Moose doesn’t understand those around him because he is quiet and withdrawn. Dusty, a single-propeller plane among the big shots, is underestimated as well. It’s really hard sometimes, when those “big shots” pass us on the street: those neurotypical five year old boys who zip along on their bikes pretending to be superheroes. I watch those big shots’ parents oblivious to the ease at which their sons can talk and ride a bike. I realize how different our parenting styles are. Autism doesn’t leave a lot of room for maybes and gray areas. Consistency and routine are something I’m complemented on often by Moose’s therapy team. My kids have a ton of love, but also a great deal of expectation and structure.
If Moose’s story tells us anything, it’s not to underestimate the underdog. That hard work truly pays off.
If a year can bring so much checked off our bucket list, by this time next year, I’m going to dream big for him. But, just as Dusty in Planes has a village of experts preparing him for the big race, we here on Team Moose are preparing Moose for life. It’s a village indeed between all his teachers, therapists, and ABA team, the amount of people caring for Moose’s progress is grand.
As his mother, I’m the mastermind behind every decision. School. Therapy. Diet. Doctors. The stress of being in charge of something so complicated is staggering at times. My husband is supportive, but given my background in education, he trusts my judgment the most. Before I had kids, I taught for seven years in Chicago. A few years I taught in a very tough gang-ridden neighborhood. I thought I had it rough then, it was a training ground for what was to come as a special needs parent. Just like the character Skipper in Planes, I considered myself an ace in my field. I understood children on a different level than most first-time parents, given the wide range of grade levels I taught and the fact I had my masters in elementary education by age 24. Plus, I spent a few years teaching junior high, so if anything; the teenage years don’t scare me now. Moose’s case of autism threw everything I knew into question.
All of the teaching methodologies I learned do not work with him. For years, we had to use a picture card system to communicate. I had to rethink everything I was taught and follow Moose’s lead.
In fact, he has been my best teacher yet, at a mere 5 years old. Like the character Skipper who left his dream career due to issues in combat, I had to leave teaching for health reasons just before I had Moose. Facing those personal hardships early on, before I had children, really prepared me for the challenges of special needs parenting. Leaving a career that I adored still bothers me, but without regaining my health and especially without all the lessons I’ve learned from being an autism mom, I would not be thriving as I am today.
Now armed with good health and a boatload of knowledge, I’m confident that this little underdog of mine will reach new heights.
How do you encourage your children to try new things and follow their dreams?
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