Friday, August 23, 2013

Autism Answer: Life's Personalized Learning Opportunities

"What happened to our van?!" Shay asked as we finally approached the remote parking space my little brother had chosen for it. "What's that huge dent? Did you hit something, Rye?"

"No, Uncle Rye didn't do that," I answered while dropping my heavy bag onto the concrete, happy to be home but missing my California family already. It was midnight and we had just gotten to the airport in Dallas, having been with my sister and nieces near Los Angeles only hours before. "Your sister, Andrea, hit something with the van. And that broken taillight was her as well. Uncle Rye didn't hurt the van at all." We piled our bags into the back, I thanked my brother for picking us up and asked for the key as I climbed into the drivers seat. After being away from home for two months, I wanted the feeling of driving my own van. Of being in control of our direction. 

As we noticed the many new stains, smells and little broken things in our van, we all quietly thought about what I'd told Shay. "Your sister, Andrea, hit something with the van...." 

Your sister. Funny, that one. My step-daughter is five years older than me, and very black. Her skin tone is like my husbands, while I'm almost ghostly white. When Andrea calls me mom, people look quite confused! And I feel a bit funny about it because we only recently met. Looooooong story short, my hubby was shut off from her life and always wondered and hoped and wished she was okay and that he could one day know her. Two years ago she showed up on his doorstep, and he's been trying to make up for his absence ever since. 

At the moment, she is in jail. At the moment, my husband is the only person in her life trying to help her get out of jail. At the moment, everyone has a hard time knowing how to feel about it. 

Declyn, our youngest son and Andrea's true half-brother, thinks his dad should let her stay in jail so that she can learn her lesson. "She was the one drinking and driving dad's cars. She's the one who keeps lying and stealing. She's the one who keeps hanging out with those drug dealers and then crying for dad or the police when they are mean. And then she just drives away yelling at them when they try to help her. She's the one who got herself in jail. And anyway, dad is always tired and serious when she's around. He needs a break from that stress."

"I get what you're saying Declyn," I responded,"but dad is also feeling like maybe things would have been different if he'd been in her life. He hopes that if he shows her that he cares by helping her now, she'll feel valued and make different choices. Plus, all of your other sisters and your older brother had an entire childhood with dad, and he feels like doing a lot for her now might make up for that."

I didn't mention that I mostly agree with Declyn, while understanding my husband. Everyone already knows that. 

Shay thinks that he doesn't really mind who does what, help her by getting her out of jail or help her by letting her stay in jail, as long as his dad doesn't feel cranky. And as long as he can have some soda. Shay is obsessed with drinking soda! 

Another dynamic that has shifted since we've been getting to know Andrea is how my boys see my brother, Rye. Rye doesn't qualify as autistic anymore, but he's still socially challenged and tends to have the odd meltdown. So my boys often assume that he is to blame when they find broken things. Lately, however, they are less inclined to assume, and more willing to wonder what happened with an open mind. At first they just figured it was Rye OR Andrea. But eventually they realized that life isn't navigated by thinking "this person is to blame for this," and "that person is to blame for that", but rather "This is what we have going on right now, what should we do next?" 

And they are also learning that the answers aren't always obvious or the same for everyone. 

One of my favorite things about our family is how comfortable we find it to share the whys behind our choices, while not judging each other--or even really ourselves!--for them. I think this is a very valuable life skill!!

It reminds us to see life's learning opportunities--and they are everywhere!--as open to interpretation and personalized. Which reminds us to think for ourselves. 
Man... it's good to be home!!! 

Now, I've got to have a chat with Shay about all the soda he has hiding in his dresser. 

Hugs, smiles and love!!!!
Autism Answers