Category Archives: Dating

A Normal Man

Sometimes, as a mom blogger, I get the feeling that my kids somehow tap into the wavelength of a post I’ve written – before I even post it. And then they come to me and totally disprove whatever I’ve written about them.

For instance, the night that I wrote “Polite Conversation,” about Nigel using lengthy delayed echolalia at the dinner table one evening, he came into my office – minutes before I posted it – and began what was undoubtedly the most incredible conversation I’ve ever had with him.  I honestly didn’t realize that he was capable of a serious back-and-forth discussion regarding intangible ideas for over half an hour. And he revealed so much more about himself during the course of it.

He started off by running into my office, eyes wide. “Mom! Have you heard of something called ‘home births’? Because I think I want to have my children that way and I wanted to see what you thought of it.”

Definitely didn’t see that coming. “Yes, I’ve heard of them. But I think that you should talk to your wife about it first. And I don’t think you need to worry about that for a long time.”

“You mean when I’m 18?”

(!) “No, I think that’s a bit early. You need to have a good job and a home for your family before you start thinking about having children.”

“20?”

“I think that’s a bit early also.”

“Well, I need to be prepared.” That’s six years of Scouting talking.

Then he sat down on a chair that’s across from my desk, and the topic changed to dating. He mentioned, quite wisely, that he needed to have a girlfriend before he could have a wife, and that there didn’t seem to be any girls at the high school who really understood him. He said that some of them were nice to him, but he was worried that they might not be sincere. “What if they ask me out on a date, but they’re just trying to trick me? How will I know the difference?”

My heart ached to hear him say it. He already knows that he is vulnerable to this. I told him that one thing that will help is to be friends with a girl before dating. And then, I pulled out my new copy of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism by Temple Grandin and Sean Barron. It had just arrived from Amazon mere days before, and I had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to tell Nigel about it. I couldn’t have planned this better if I tried.

He seemed interested. I asked him if he wanted to read it himself or if he wanted us to read it together, and he opted to read it on his own. I was thrilled by his positive response! Somehow I had tapped into what he needed – before he even asked. But of course, we autism parents do that all the time, especially when our kids can’t ask.  

We talked some more. We conversed. He made eye contact, he posed ideas and waited for my response, and then he responded to my ideas. Sometimes he added even more to his response. His voice inflection was perfectly appropriate, he tried new words and asked me if he used them correctly, he was fully engaged. My heart was bursting with joy, because for many years I didn’t know if such conversations could ever take place.

Then at one point he leaned forward in his chair and said, “I think I’m different from other autistics because I want to be a normal man and have a wife and family.”

I tried not to let my face show too much emotion, but lately my son has been causing me to tear up a lot. “Oh, honey. Yes, your autism makes you different and makes some things more difficult to achieve, but don’t ever think that you can’t be a normal man if you don’t have a wife and family. Whatever you do with your life, you will always be a normal man. In fact, better than normal.” I got up, walked over to him, and gave him a hug, which he stiffly accepted (the usual for him).  

He left then, book in hand, and I couldn’t help but cry. I always think about my son’s future and how different things will be for him. But what I hadn’t thought about is the now unmistakable fact that he is also thinking about his future, his adulthood. And then I remembered something that I had forgotten to tell him. Something I wanted to make sure he knew. I dried my eyes and walked to his room.

“Nigel, I just wanted to tell you that when you’re an adult, I’ll still be here to help you, to talk with you. I’ll always be there for you.”

He paused a moment, taking that in. Then he said, “Good, because I don’t know how to get grants for college.”

Oh, honey. I got you covered.                                                                                

Making His Move

When we last heard from the hormone-addled, resident autistic teen about the subject of dating, he was coming up with a plan for the parents of the girl he’s interested in to become familiar with him. And the autistic teen’s mother was encouraging him to wait until high school.

Well, folks, that waiting period is nearing its end. Eighth grade is almost over. And Nigel has begun to make his move. He informed me last week that he had “finally” told the long-time object of his affection how he feels about her by writing a note. I asked him if he hand-wrote it or typed it, and he said that he hand-wrote it, which must have been quite an undertaking for him.   He said that he wrote of her “beauty and grace,” and that he feared, in telling her, that she would feel uncomfortable around him. He wrote that, too. Holding my breath, I asked him how Stephanie responded to the note. “She was okay with it,” he said. “She’s still my friend.” And then he nonchalantly bit into an apple and walked out of the kitchen.

Here’s the back story: For months, Nigel has talked about this girl. In the early stages, it was “She understands my difference.” This was when he still attended the middle school full time. Then, after I began homeschooling him, he would go for walks in the neighborhood and stand in front of her house, hoping she would come out to talk to him. A few times he knocked on the door, and her parents politely declined. He would film his Lego videos in his room, and I would hear him say in an announcer’s voice the names of the people starring in the film; Stephanie always received top billing. When I would pick him up from his weekly social skills class at the middle school, he asked me if we could find Stephanie’s class so that he could say hello. Since, at the time, he was not officially a student, we could not.

And then, six weeks ago, he began attending the middle school again, part-time. I would pick him up from his half day and ask how lunch went, since that time is unsupervised, and he used to be targeted then. “Fine,” he would answer. “Stephanie sat with me. I think I’m in love.” I wanted to hug this girl, to thank her for being so kind to my son. But I also wanted to gently prepare Nigel for the disappointment of unrequited love. I would tell him that he had to remember that people don’t always have the same feelings toward each other, that someone might want a person to be their boyfriend or girlfriend, but that person just wants to be friends. I told him that that happens to people of all ages, including adults, whether they’re autistic or not. It’s just a part of life.

What I didn’t know when Nigel told me about giving Stephanie the note was that there was a school dance two days later. And Nigel wanted to go. I’m sure he had hoped that Stephanie would have wanted to be more than just friends for the occasion of the dance, but even in the face of polite rejection, Nigel still wanted to go. I was very proud of how he was handling his emotions in this situation – he was showing exceptional maturity for someone with a lower emotional age. And that is why I felt confident letting him go to the dance without an aide. He had attended another dance three months before, but the school required him to have an aide with him, and things went well. Nigel remembered that stipulation. When he asked me about going to the new dance, he quickly added, “I asked the deans and they said it was okay that I could go without M,” (his previous aide). And my heart soared, not only because the deans had approved it, but because Nigel had thought to ask. He took it upon himself to make something happen that was important to him. And he did it the right way.

I still felt a little nervous about him attending the dance alone. But he excitedly told me that it wasn’t just a dance – there would be an obstacle course, video games, and other activities. I suggested ear plugs for the two-hour sensory bombardment. “No, Mom, I want to be like everybody else.” So I dropped him off with five dollars and came home to wring my hands, waiting for the phone call about some behavioral incident.

But there were no calls. I went early to pick him up, so that I could park near the entrance. I regretted not reminding him to come out front as soon as it was over. I had, however, rehearsed with him what he would do if anyone came up to him and started harassing him. I dreaded the thought that, here he was, trying so hard, and someone who enjoyed giving him a hard time would just come along and get him riled up and ruin the evening. I envisioned walking up to the double doors to pick him up and one of the teachers would pull me aside and tell me about a “situation.” Ugh.

But less than a minute after I walked up to the double doors, Nigel came striding toward me from another direction, flushed and happy. He had won with the fastest time on the obstacle course. That’s great, I told him. Did you see Stephanie? “No, I don’t think she was here. But I still had fun.” Did anyone bother you? I asked tentatively. “No, Mom. No one bothers me anymore.” I hugged him and said, “I’m so glad. And I’m glad you had fun tonight.” Then I drove home, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time.

*        *        *        *        *

P.S. Something else I’m feeling emotional about – Aidan’s surgery is tomorrow (Monday). Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

What It’s Like to Date Someone Whose Child Has Autism

This is the first post in a new series called What It’s Like. I intend to interview friends and relatives to get the viewpoints of everyone who is affected by having someone with autism in their lives – past, present, and future.

I wanted to start off with one of the more recent people to become involved with Nigel – my boyfriend, Rick. We have been dating for several months, and I recently talked with him about his views on dating someone who has an ASD child. Additionally, for some insight into what it’s like to date and be married to someone on the spectrum, check out Jeffrey Deutsch’s informative posts on relationships. Another interesting post was written by Sam, who dated someone with Asperger’s. We can all learn so much from each other.

1. Did you have any experience and/or preconceived ideas about autism prior to knowing that I have an autistic son? What did you think at first?

I didn’t have any thoughts – I had heard stuff on the radio about autism, but really had no idea what it was about.

2. From what you know now about Nigel’s autism being more severe when he was younger, do you think if you had met and dated me then that things would have been more difficult?

Probably, but I wouldn’t have left.

3. What, in your experience now, is the most challenging thing about dating someone who has an autistic child?

When he was younger, I’m sure that getting a babysitter would have been a big challenge, but right now it’s not really much of a challenge to me, and I don’t mind it. I’m accepting this for what it is.

4. What are the things you enjoy about dating someone with an autistic child?

He makes me laugh sometimes – stuff he says. I do have fun with him and the way he laughs.

5. Do you have concerns about the future regarding Nigel living with me into adulthood?

No, I’m a very family-oriented person.

6. Why do you feel comfortable dating someone with an autistic child?

My brother has paranoid schizophrenia, so I’m used to different behaviors and ways of communicating.

7. Would you feel differently if Nigel were still non-verbal?  No.

8. Any advice for someone entering a relationship with a person whose child has autism?

Be patient, and let the kids get to know you at their own pace.

9. What about for the parent whose (teenage) child has autism?

Don’t worry about him being out in public and disturbing people; let him spread his wings a little more.

Many thanks to Rick! Be sure to visit Aerocraft Fiberglass to check out the cool race car bodies he designs and manufactures!

 

The Other Side of the Dating Coin

Life as a single parent is challenging enough. Throw autism into the picture and every limitation is magnified. Try to date and you may decide to just NOT for a while. When your kids are younger, you have to deal with finding someone to watch them so you can GO on a date, and then when your date arrives to pick you up, your echolalic five-year-old son greets him at the door with a shout of “Balto!” because he had just watched that movie. Then when you can’t find someone to watch the kids and your date gallantly albeit naively suggests taking them to the Chinese restaurant with you, you try to sound spontaneous by saying “Sure!” inwardly cringing because you know it’s a bad idea. And then within five minutes of being seated at the restaurant, your five-year-old goes into a sensory overload meltdown as you feared he would and is writhing on the floor screaming and so you leave, and a week later the date tells you he can’t deal with the “extended family.” And since this is not the first time a love interest has ended a fledgling romance in this manner, you think to hell with it, why should I bother?

And then your kids get older, and by some miracle and a good response to therapy, they begin talking more and have learned to filter some of their sensory issues and can actually sit in a restaurant for a bit, so you think maybe you’ll give it another shot. And you get someone to watch the kids, and when the date comes over to pick you up, your now-verbal eleven-year-old son decides to suggest to the date that he should marry you. But the date decides to stick around for a few months anyway (after lecturing you about the inappropriateness of your son’s suggestion, just in case you hadn’t sensed it, even though he himself does not have any autistic children, nor any children whatsoever). And on one outing with your kids that you were apprehensive about doing (but did anyway to seem spontaneous), your autistic eleven-year-old gets lost and you spend half an hour looking for him, and then your SPD nine-year-old vomits all over the back seat of the fledgling boyfriend’s new car that everybody was excited to ride in, and then he tells you that he’s really not sure he can “take on” the “responsibility” of your children. And you think, Really? This again? Still?  

And now your kids are adolescents and can actually stay home by themselves for a limited time so getting someone to watch them is no longer an issue. And you take an objective look at the situation and realize that getting someone to watch the kids was actually the smallest issue of all. It was getting someone to understand the kids, to accept them, that was the issue. It was getting someone who not only acknowledged the “package deal” nature of your situation, but who actually wanted to take it on. Those have always been the real issues, you realize, not getting someone to watch the kids or seeming spontaneous enough. And so you go on a lot of lunch dates until you meet someone who you think can understand your life and accept your kids and not be bothered by one son who warns against being seated too close together and still gets lost and the other son who only eats four things and occasionally still vomits in the car.

And you realize that as much as you worry about your autistic teen finding someone kind enough and understanding enough to date him and appreciate him and possibly have a relationship with him, you realize that deep down, you’ve also been just as concerned about finding someone like that for yourself. And when you do find someone willing to fill that role, after over a decade of looking, you realize that only now are you able to truly appreciate that person. Only now do you know what you needed all this time.

When Talking on the Sidewalk Isn’t Enough

Nigel: Can eighth-graders have dates?

Me: What did you have in mind?

Nigel: Stephanie.

Me: No; what did you have in mind for what you wanted to do for the date?

Nigel: A movie date. But I have to decide what movie.

Me: Maybe you should let your date decide.

Nigel, eyes wide, smiling, high-fives me: Genius! I can learn about dating from you!

Me: I think that’s an excellent idea. Many parents don’t feel comfortable with their kids dating until high school, so you can spend the next year learning about dating, and then you’ll be ready.

Nigel: Well, I have another idea. [Leaves my office, runs down the hall to his room, returns in a moment brandishing a 2 x 3 school photo from last year, which was taken without my knowledge that it was Picture Day, and he had left the house that morning in a dirty old T-shirt that said "Baseball" across the front.]Next time I talk to Stephanie on the sidewalk, I can give this to her to show her parents so that they can have a visualization of me.

Me: Well, they’d probably want to meet you first, anyway. And me [the mother who lets her son have school pictures taken in a ratty T-shirt]. But let’s wait until high school, okay? I’m sure Stephanie’s parents would feel better about that, too.

Nigel: But what if they don’t?

Me: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Nigel: You mean like in The Emperor’s New Groove?

Me: Yes. With sharp rocks at the bottom.

Nigel: Uh, Mom, the scene with that line was when they were going over the waterfall, not the bridge.

Me: Oh. Right.

Assisted Wooing

Nigel: Those two look attractive.

Thus begins a new category here at Teen Autism: Dating. Now that he is nearing fourteen, Nigel has adjusted to the hormones that began coursing through his body last year. He no longer growls at me (unless he’s having a meltdown). Now he has discovered that these hormones can be channeled into something more productive: obsessing about girls. In fact, perhaps I should re-categorize this post under Obsessions.

But no, this is no ordinary Obsession of the Week. This is Nature Running Its Course. And I am glad I had already registered to attend this upcoming seminar.

We have some friends visiting from out of state this week who are staying at a local motel with a pool, which was good planning on their part since it got up to 108 degrees. I took the boys over to visit them at the pool, where they had fun with their friend who is Aidan’s age. At one point, two girls about Nigel’s age entered the pool, and that was it. While Aidan and friend blithely continued their goggle-clad shenanigans, Nigel made it a point to remove himself from their presence and began showing off diving near the two girls. He would come up for air near them, and I, Mama Bear, became incensed when the girls rolled their eyes and turned away. Be nice! I wanted to yell. Give him a chance!

Then Nigel got smart. He enlisted the help of someone who had once been a girl. That’s when he came over to me in my corner of the pool and said, pointing, “Those two look attractive.” He continued with, “I feel a little anxious. Is it common for males to feel anxious about mating?” Oh, my son. “Try not to point, honey. Yes, it’s common for boys to feel anxious about meeting girls. But the term ‘mating’ usually refers to animals.”

Nigel: Oh. [makes a swimming motion] Maybe I should show them my moves.

Me: Usually girls just like it better if you talk to them. You can tell them your name, and then say, ‘I just wanted to say hi.’

And then, oh, this was so sweet, he went over to them and said, “Hi. Name’s Nigel.” (That’s exactly how he said it!) The girls said hi and introduced themselves, and then Nigel said, “That’s my mom over there,” and pointed at me! The girls waved to me and I waved back. Part of me wonders if Nigel has learned that if he lets kids know that his mom is nearby, they will be nicer to him. And that is usually what happens. But maybe he couldn’t think of anything else to say to them right then. Maybe he did it for some other reason. I’ll probably never know, but that’s okay.

What matters is that for the remainder of the afternoon, whenever I saw Nigel near the girls, it appeared that they were being nice to him. Thanks, girls! Whether my presence motivated them or not, at least they learned that if at first someone seems a little different, they might not be so bad. A little patience goes a long way, especially in the beginning stages of dating (or “mating,” as Nigel would say).