Puberty + Autism = Hell.
That’s how it was for us anyway. Backing up – Adam developed autism shortly after his first birthday. With several years to adapt, our entire family had accepted that a large part of what defined us, was caring for and teaching a sweet boy with autism. Then Adam turned 12. And I wanted to drive my mini-van with myself, my husband and all four kids right off a cliff. A large one – with no chance of survival – because life had become absolutely unbearable for all of us. Judge if you will, but if you’ve never experienced this, you can’t even imagine.
The very first time Adam showed aggression, I was at Disneyland with two of my other children and some dear family friends. Adam became so enraged that we were escorted off Disney property in an ambulance. We couldn’t even walk a step without him punching, hitting and biting. Super fun when hundreds of spectators are gawking. My son, who up until this point was docile and sweet – free from any form of aggression, had instantly become full of hormones, confusion, and rage. This was the beginning of one of the worst years of my life.
Looking back though, I feel mostly bad for Adam. The kid grew eight inches in eight months, and had no real way to express how that must’ve felt. (We didn’t realize at the time that he was growing so fast and probably in severe pain). We’d already lost him to autism when he was one-year-old, and this advent into adolescence with its dramatic behavioral changes was eerily reminiscent of that initial pain 11 years prior.
Long story short. There were broken windows, broken beds, broken doors, holes in walls, bites and bruises, pulled hair, tantrums in public, crying siblings, a crying mama. A mama, that for the first time in her life thought, “I really cannot do this. It’s not sustainable. We’re going to have to find some sort of home that can handle Adam. It’s too hard. This is dangerous. Adam is too unpredictable. This is detrimental to his siblings. We just can’t do this.”
But we did. Somehow. Adam’s puberty subsided. And he calmed down. He stopped growing one inch per month. And his siblings learned that they could trust him again.
And we could go places in public again without fear of a catastrophic melt down.
We got through it. Most importantly, Adam hung in there and got through it. Today, he is nearly 17 and again our sweet and gentle giant.
Yesterday, my husband Scott delivered a keynote address at a healthcare conference in Florida. One of his points was that for our peers and colleagues to respect us and our initiatives, that we must be vulnerable. We must be real. And we must not be afraid to be who we are and to share what’s defined us. He shared stories of Adam. He spoke of our year of hell. He talked about the time Adam freaked out on a plane and he and Adam were forced to disembark, while I and my three children stayed on the plane and flew to our new home in Arkansas to meet the movers the next day. And then he shared how, through the love and patience of a pilot grandpa and uncle, we got Adam flying again.
Triumph! One of countless.
And today, Scott was approached by a woman at the conference, who was in the audience for his speech yesterday. She shared that she had a 13-year-old son with autism…that things had gotten so out-of-control and so miserable that they’d had to institutionalize him. Since that point, she shared, that she and her husband have been miserable. They’re sure they made the wrong choice. They are struggling with guilt and they miss him. They don’t feel right not having him home, but not quite equipped to have him there either. And then she heard Adam’s story. And it was HER story. That things can go insanely wrong, but can also get better. And she told Scott, that for the first time in a very long time, she felt hope. And that she was going home to Atlanta to get her son and bring him home. Because if we could endure it, she could too.
I don’t judge this sweet woman from Atlanta. Not one bit. I wanted to drive my car off a cliff, after all. I’m proud of Scott for talking to a group of one-thousand people about things that are hard to share. It’s not fun to recount these stories, but in this case, it made a difference – for one woman and her son who will be coming home – it made a difference. You just never know.