Should Concern for Your Child with Autism Limit a Rewarding Life?
My Experience After Several Public Meltdowns
As a parent, your number one job is to protect your child. As a parent of a child with autism, sometimes you feel the need to protect them from the entire world. But what should you do when that parental instinct starts to inhibit your child’s personal growth and development?
There are still many days when I want to curl up into a ball on my mother’s lap and forget about the world. Days when I want to hide in my closet, pretending, wishing, that I was still a child with no responsibilities. Even as I write this, my eyes start to tear up. A need, a want, a desire so strong to run away from my obligations and into the safety of my mother’s arms.
I increasingly feel as though I’m backed into a corner (a spot that is usually a safe place for me), but in this corner, there is a subtle yet deafening voice issuing a profound ultimatum:
“Be safe and stagnate, or take risks and flourish.”
Each time I hear this voice, a fire ignites within me as I stand up in this corner, back against the wall, and remember a quote that has been the continuous theme of my 27-year-long journey: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”
I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to all corners of the country sharing my story, insights gained and lessons learned, and I make sure that every audience I speak in front of takes this one message home with them: The heaviest burdens in life are only put upon the shoulders of those strong enough to carry them.
The lesson learned here is clear: If I were to stay inside my comfort zone, and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would not be able to touch a single life with my message of hope, inspiration, and acceptance.
Being a motivational speaker, I travel a lot, and I have recently developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when it comes to airports after I experienced a horrendous meltdown in June of last year at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Although this experience went viral after I wrote about it on Facebook, the mental and physical repercussions of this traumatic incident have been immense.
Meltdowns are already exhausting. Public meltdowns? Downright agonizing.
Few people understand the torment and anguish that lies behind the word “meltdown.” Tears, hyperventilation, screams, adrenaline rush, intrusive thoughts, vulnerability, sometimes even vocal ticks and convulsions.
In 5 out of the last 11 trips to the airport, I have been met with intense anxiety, prolonged panic attacks, distressing meltdowns, severe depression and invasive bouts of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), resulting in me pacing back and forth in the airport, sobbing uncontrollably, twitching, and rubbing my hands together, all the while feeling like my brain is in a vice grip that has been set on fire. On top of this, I am always met with two extremes from the people around me: stares of curiosity or purposeful avoidance of me. I am either on exhibit or completely invisible, and to be honest I don’t know which one is worse.
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Throughout all of this, I have somehow managed to board my plane each and every time, sometimes assisted by my mother and/or airline employees and have subsequently given a heck of a speech to boot.
So the question remains: Should your concerns for your child limit their pursuit of a fulfilling life?
My answer? No.
Without a doubt, each episode of panic or sensory-overload I experience takes a toll on my mental and physical well-being, but I have found that it is through strife and struggle that we discover our individual purpose, and come to understand why we are here.
I’ll refer you to this famous African proverb: A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
The purpose of this article is to inform you. After all, knowledge is one of the few things that can be given to you but never taken away. Having said that, YOU are the parent. YOU know what’s best for your child. When you trust your parental instincts above all else, while also compassionately pushing your child to take risks, let them know that you will be there to catch them when they fall, you will be amazed to discover your child’s continuous growth of self-confidence, ambition, and insight.
Parents of those on the spectrum oftentimes second guess themselves and at times regret certain decisions they made for their child. I know my mother did, but let me tell you that she has been the absolute perfect mother for a son with my struggles and circumstances.
Rest easy tonight knowing this: When you do something out of love, you can never go wrong.
Russell Lehmann is an award-winning and internationally recognized motivational speaker, poet, author and advocate whose words have reached over 20 million people worldwide, from Argentina to Norway, Lebanon to Australia.
Russell began to experience symptoms and struggles around the age of three, however not a single doctor or specialist could figure out what was happening. In 2003, at the age of 12, Russell was admitted to the psychiatric ward at a local hospital. He stayed there for five weeks, which were some of the toughest of his life. He, unfortunately, left this hospital without any diagnosis. Later that year, in 2003, Russell was finally diagnosed with autism at the University of Washington’s Autism Center.
In 2011 Russell wrote a book titled Inside Out: Stories and Poems from an Autistic Mind which was featured in the LA Times earned an Honorable Mention at the 2012 NY Book Festival and won the award for Literary Excellency at the 2013 International Autistic People’s Awards in Vancouver, Canada.
Russell’s name and story are known worldwide, and every presentation he gives uplifts, inspires and increases awareness and understanding, all the while producing a room full of emotions. He has yet to give a speech that has not received a standing ovation.
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD