When Joseph was first diagnosed with autism, I assumed this label would remove his ability to ever achieve anything in life. Life was pretty tough at that particular stage in both our lives and I couldn’t see beyond the shit. Quite literally.
I was experiencing life as many mums do in that I felt I was there to service Joseph’s basic needs; toileting and feeding. My gut instinct told me that if I wasn’t there to do it then anyone else would be able to fill the gap. I’m certain Joseph liked me but it never felt anything more greater than that.
Lack of sleep felt like a daily kick in the teeth. Each day I wondered whether I would make it through and when I did, the future frightened me. I couldn’t see beyond what we were experiencing and often thought whether this was what life would be like forever. I craved for the life that it seemed everyone around me had; toilet trained, talking children who needed their parent for more than the obvious. He was less than a year off starting school, way off being ready and worrying about it was sending me into a downward spiral and I couldn’t pick myself up.
Joseph had never been the child who had been upset when I left the room and although it made my life slightly easier, I wanted him to at least show a little emotion when I walked away. After all, I had endured twenty-eight hours worth of hard labour before his extraction had taken place. A few tears were the very least I deserved.
And over time, I grew used to our relationship of convenience. We lived side by side and I learned to accept the situation for what it was. What I didn’t realise was that milestones were slowly being hit and the child who had uttered only couple of words (usually juice and crisps) was starting to string more words together, I wasn’t scooping as many turds but sleep was still an issue. Joseph’s personality started to develop and anyone who came into contact with him, couldn’t resist his charm.
Recently, I made an absolute balls up of a collection from an after-school club and arrived twenty minutes late. I couldn’t get in touch with anyone to let them know I was stuck in traffic and by the time I arrived my mind had gone through at least thirty situations as to what might have happened to Joseph. At no point did I consider how he might have felt about me not being there, just whether he was wandering around a foggy village alone and lost.
It will come as no surprise that after my attempted sprint across the car park in my heels and almost falling into the entrance, Joseph was sat in school perfectly safe. What completely caught me off guard was the teaching assistant telling me Joseph had been upset when I wasn’t waiting outside for him. After the initial feeling of relief that he was alive (why wouldn’t he be?) my feelings switched to guilt and then satisfaction. I was no longer the woman he liked, I was his mum who he needed.
He has started to interpret emotions better, knows how to please people and will often offer up a cheeky smile when he knows he has done something a little bit mischievous. He wants my attention more and although I longed for him to shout the infamous ‘MUUUUUUM’, I laugh to myself when I am rolling my eyes to the top of my head after I have heard it for the fortieth time that day; I am human after all.
The imagination he shows when playing is enlightening, although largely on his terms and woe betide anyone who changes the rules!
He has developed a close bond with his stepbrother and sister and constantly asks where they are if not around. When I see them laughing together, my heart skips a beat. I watch him, flicking his hair to one side and know who he is imitating.
Once he has found something that makes me laugh, he carries out the action repeatedly to see me laughing and he laughs with me, which makes me laugh even more.
There are days when he almost drives me around the bend and I spoke before about us getting on each other’s tits; I want to be in charge, he wants to be in charge and we are more alike than I realised. I still can’t have a poo in peace (known in our house as a PIP) and I sometimes wish to be left alone for more than three minutes. I’m certain I’m not the only person to think that their child drives them crazy although I may be one of the few to admit it.
I need to remind myself of those tougher times to appreciate how far he has come. His autism makes certain situations more difficult for him and he sees life through a different lens but the pleasure he draws from life is infectious. I cannot help but admire him for the way he embraces life and the achievements he has made.
He will always have that label but he will always be Joseph first and autistic second.