It goes without saying that teen Autism is a difficult disorder. As a neurological disease, it affects a teen’s ability to learn, communicate, and socialize. It is a disease that affects every aspect of a child’s life as well as the lives of his or her family.
There’s an important conversation that you one day might need to have with your autistic teen. It’s a question that might never come at all or perhaps unexpectedly when you’re not prepared for it.
That’s exactly what happened with Tanya Savko and her autistic child, Nigel. She had become accustomed to receiving phone calls from Nigel’s school. Whenever his behavior got out of control or if he had harmed a student in class, he was sent home and Tanya would have to pick him. One day when Nigel was in eighth grade, this is precisely what happened.
However, as they walked from the school to the car, Tanya describes Nigel having a moment of clarity, a brief moment of lucidity where he was able to see himself. As they walked hand in hand, Nigel looked up at his mother and asked, “What’s wrong with me Mom?”
She wasn’t able to answer right then. Although Tanya wishes she were prepared on that day, she wasn’t. Instead, she said, “We’ll talk about it when we get home.” Of course, the answer indicates that there is something wrong. And for this Tanya shares her feelings about saying what she did. “Why, when he asked me what was wrong with him, didn’t I say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, honey?”
Any reader can feel the heartache Tanya suffers. Perhaps for parents of autistic children, it’s appropriate to have a prepared answer. Perhaps it’s best to have words prepared in your mind so that you are ready for such a question. It might never come. Depending on the severity of the teen autism, he or she may never have the lucidity to ask such a question. And then again, they might.
Later that evening, Tanya started out the conversation with her son by describing how people can have different disabilities. If a person has a disability in their leg, she said, they might not be able to walk. If a person has a disability in their throat, she explained, they might not be able to talk. In Tanya’s blog, she continues to describe her process. She describes how Nigel responded erratically at first and later seemed to arrive at an understanding.
The story demonstrates the pains of being a parent of an autistic child. Interestingly, the number of autistic cases has increased. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was believed that in 2012 approximately 1 in 88 children were recognized as having ASD, which is 10 times more than 40 years ago. However, the CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD, which is approximately 14.7 per 1,000 eight year olds. This is a 30% increase over 2012.
Fortunately, increase in the rates of ASD among children is due primarily to an increase in awareness and the growing ability to identify early signs. Yet, despite this, there remains a growing need for educating the public and communicating that a concern about teen Autism still exists.
You may not ever have to answer the heart-wrenching question that Nigel posed to his mother Tanya, but if you’re a parent to an autistic child, there are many others out there who share your struggles. Parenting an autistic teen doesn’t have to be a lonely journey.