12: Being Quiet

12: Being Quiet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Being Quiet

Just as when a child is still in its mother’s womb, the child’s cravings are reflected in the mother and become her desires.

~Tukaram Maharaj

When I was pregnant with my first child I eagerly joined birthing groups, and I enjoyed sharing pregnancy stories, maternity clothes and hearty laughs. My husband and I continued to host weekly potlucks, staying up late playing music with our friends. I worked until my due date as the director for an afterschool program surrounded by the loud activity of enthusiastic children. I was out in the world, smiling and ready for anything, with an abundance of good friends always at my side. Once my daughter was born she joined in the fun. The best way to soothe her when she was fussy was to bring her to the park or a party. She loved a social gathering.

When our daughter was still a baby, I became pregnant again. Many months before we thought we were ready, our next child began his amazing journey. Surprised, but delighted, I researched a prenatal yoga class, but as I dialed the number I felt a strong need to hang up the phone. Against my instincts I made the call and attended the first session. Women with bulging bellies and loose yoga clothes chatted with each other before class. I began to approach them, eager to join in on the chatting, but again, something pulled me away. Instead of laughing with them, I stretched quietly on a yoga mat in the corner, focusing on my breath until the instructor began the class. It was lovely and relaxing, yet I never returned.

Each week I made excuses to cancel our Friday night potlucks. I stopped taking my daughter to playgroups and instead invited the quietest child and her shy mother to our house. I enjoyed the social interaction, but I just wanted it to be quieter. One night my favorite band was playing a free concert in the park, but the thought of the crowds and the noise made me feel sick. On hot days I put on the sprinkler for my toddler rather than going to the local pond with our friends. My husband did the grocery shopping, as he understood my strange need to stay home and be quiet.

As the due date approached I refused to have a baby shower. We had all we needed, I argued, but really I sensed the baby wouldn’t like it. My daughter, husband and I settled into a sweet time of closeness, excited — though quietly — about the new baby’s arrival. Meanwhile I had a feeling, call it mother’s intuition that the new baby was getting ready for a tremendously challenging transition — not that I anticipated a difficult birth — but more likely, a difficult life for this little guy who I thought might not like crowds or noise.

Sure enough the birth was fine, he was adorable and our love for him was beyond words, and still I had the strong urge to protect him. We allowed few visitors into our quiet home, and when I had to take him out, I bundled him tightly and kept him close to my chest. When the first signs of “trouble” arose, I was heartbroken, but not surprised. As a toddler he often struck out at children, especially when there was a lot of noise and chaos. Fortunately his father’s kind and gentle voice could calm him down.

After the first day of kindergarten his teacher angrily approached me and said that when it was time to say his name at their morning circle he picked up the brand new box of crayons she has just given him and broke every one, with a great big smile on his face. She was livid. I was sad and confused. His reading and math scores soared while he continued to alienate his peers. By the time he was in third grade I had gotten the message from the school: Your child is a problem; it’s your fault: fix it!

When he was nine we moved to a new community. His new doctor said to me, “Have you ever considered that your son might have Asperger’s?” His new school tested him right away when they realized he could not be placed in a regular classroom because he was too disruptive. He was definitely on the spectrum, and also had an anxiety disorder. The school took actions that his old school never considered. With a strong support system in place they worked respectfully with him. By fifth grade he was able to rejoin the classroom full time. By sixth grade he was able to go without an aide, a big step for him.

As he is entering his teen years I see a boy who loves computers, math and doing projects with his dad. He has an amazing mind and a kind heart. We have inspiring conversations about God and the healing power of love. He does not care for sports, parties or crowds. He has a few good friends who are able to overlook his “quirkiness” and who love him as he is — especially because he can show them things on the computer they could never figure out on their own! He still turns to his dad when the anxiety is high and he needs to be held.

His therapist told us that we can’t imagine how he feels in social gatherings. The tools we were born with for shielding ourselves from unwanted pressure and stimulation are absent for him. Stimuli come at him all at once, bombarding him with terrifying force. “He has to work much harder than most of us just to survive socially,” she told us, “and at times it’s going to be too much.” She assured us that it’s fine for him to spend a whole day isolated in his room after spending days at school working tremendously hard to control himself.

Recently I was telling him about my pregnancy thirteen years ago. “I had this strange urge to stay away from people,” I said. “I wouldn’t even let friends come over.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” he said. “I hate people.” And we both laughed, because although it is true, it’s also not true. I know this because I experience this boy’s love and kindness each day and I thank God for the gifts I have learned from my quirky little guy, especially the gift of knowing how to be quiet.

~Lava Mueller

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