My Son Has Autism and----. The phrase slipped out of my mouth between explaining the Attendance Policy and the All Cellphones Must Be Turned Off During Class Rule (except for mine, i.e., the instructor's, because MSHA). I was standing in front of my first class at my new job and reviewing the syllabus, in which I had inserted words to the effect of:
Please note: The professor will have her cell phone turned on during classtime. My son has autism and, in the past, I have been called about an issue that needs my immediate attention. The professor apologizes in advance for the disruption such calls can cause, appreciates your understanding, and hopes such disruption will be minimal.
The class sat, and I moved on to Lesson #1, the Greek alphabet. No butterflies in the stomach or racing heart as I used to feel when announcing MSHA, to new classes of students, to a speechless crowd on a train platform, to another weary mother. Six and a half years ago, I walked red-eyed and running late into a Latin class, day after day. The students were all male, except for one woman. I had just dropped a not-yet eighteen month-old Charlie off at the on-campus child care center, or rather I had finally peeled Charlie out of my arms, crying and crying, after the first cheerful months when he'd seemed willing enough to go to a kindly young woman's arms. Charlie became increasingly inconsolable and every morning--especially after the crying never ceased, and got worse and worse--had become an emotional trial.
If I had a few minutes, I called Jim (these were our pre-cell phone days), and that inevitably roused more tumult in me. The child care teachers had begun to look beyond concerned and there were louder and louder murmurs about evaluation for a "disorder" whose precise name I chose not to hear. My oblivion to my distress was brought to the fore when one student said, not unkindly, "Could you please just start class one day without crying?"
Today I was all smiles in the face of a small group of students warily encountering the Greek alphabet. I recall my former student's words with a bemused shrug: What a wreck I was in those pre-diagnosis, pre-autism days. I had been teaching at the University of St. Thomas for a few months and now something was "not right" with Charlie; how could this be?
Today, while I taught, Charlie and my parents were watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which, my mom told me most happily, Charlie sat through all of, and enjoyed. He ate a box of popcorn and would not get up as the credits scrolled by and the music played. He was eating vanilla soy ice cream when I got home (ah, the indulgences of grandparents--and Charlie is an only grandchild) and was not into his dinner, and then had a loud whine-crying episode. I stood near him, kicking and moaning on the couch: "Charlie, if you want more to eat, go to the kitchen." Pause and he got up and ate one of his comfort foods (frozen mixed vegetables--long story for another post!)--and that was that. Jim came home and Charlie, his systemizing sense working over time, insisted that everyone sit in certain places in "black car" and "green car." We had him come back inside, which led to more howl-kicking that slowly subsided.
"I want hot shower. Takea bath," said Charlie, and went up the stairs.
I've spent the past week meeting many new people and saying to more than a few, on their learning I have a son:
The tagline "MSHA" usually followed at some point: Q: What grade? A: Weeelllll, third technically but actually.....MSHA.....and. Or, I'd found myself saying that I, like many a mother and autism parent, "I had to leave my job to take care of Charlie." I smile, I shrug, I'm back at work, MSHA, and I wouldn't be here today and who I am without Charlie.