Here I am, 33 weeks pregnant, in the middle of June, at a gender reveal party trying to keep my two-year-old son from crawling out the doggy door. He throws himself to the ground, screaming so hard his face turns red. He is literally losing his mind. Just another typical Tuesday evening for us.
Several elderly women stared at me in horrified disbelief. Why can’t she get her kid under control.
I slowly and calmly got down on the floor with him, and, to their utter disapproval, cradled him against my bulging belly and rocked him slowly, repeating the words “Breathe with me, you can handle this.”
They expected me to punish him, get him under control. Look at her sitting there coddling him. He needs to taught that temper tantrums do not get you what you want.
Once he calmed, he looked up and signed “Eli want Mickey Mouse.” I handed him his iPad, and he scuttled off to a corner to watch his show, but more importantly he retreated to his own world.
To the people at the party he was a toddler in full blow tantrum mode because he couldn’t do what he wanted to do. They leaned into one another, and I could almost feel the weight of their judgement. I was a bad mom.
What they didn’t know was Eli has autism. While we didn’t have official diagnosis yet, that would come later that month, we were almost positive. He wasn’t throwing a fit because he didn’t get what he wanted; he was overstimulated.
They saw a child trying to climb out the doggy door to get to the pool.
I knew he was trying to escape a situation that terrified him to his core.
They saw a spoiled child too dependent on technology.
I knew the show gave him the opportunity to immerse himself into a word that was predictable, pattern-based, non-threatening.
What they didn’t see was his intelligence. They couldn’t see that a mere two years of age he knew all his letters and the sounds they made. They couldn’t see that while he wasn’t able to speak he could sign over a hundred words. They couldn’t see that he could distinguish between a flute and clarinet when he listened to classical music, which he did often. All they could see was an out of control toddler and an over-indulgent mom.
Thankfully now, two years later, with the help of an amazing team of teachers, therapist, family, and friends, Eli has learned tools to help him deal with these situations. I still wonder if people will see him, or just his autism. He still has tantrums from time to time. He still gets overwhelmed and has to retreat to his iPad, and a world of predictability, known as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but he’s learning to cope. Now more and more people see what I see…
Casey Dixon lives in the suburbs of Houston, Texas and teaches 4th grade. Her husband, Ryan, is a Houston Fire Fighter. Casey is also the mother to two rambunctious boys, Eli, age four, and Parker, age two. Eli was diagnosed with autism at age two and has been in Adaptive Behavior Analysis therapy ever since. He is making phenomenal progress and continues to amaze his family everyday with his intelligence, kind heart, and giving spirit.
This article was featured in Issue 55 – Celebrating with the People We Love