Category Archives: Self-Esteem

Watching Adam

Ever since the movie Adam came out on DVD, I’ve debated watching it. I was curious but skeptical. I wondered how realistic it could be, or how stereotypical, how formulaic, or how Hollywoodized. I feared that it might be contrived, either an Apergerized, Rainman-esque “autistic-people-are-savants” portrayal, or a glossy “people-with-Asperger’s-are-quirky-but-they’re-just-like-everyone-else” feel-good portrayal. And, having watched it last night, I must say that there were a few implausible things I noted, but I could have been wrong about them. After all, Nigel does not have Asperger’s. Some areas of his development have differed from the characteristics of AS. But these days, there are plenty of similarities.

In any case, this is not a review of Adam. This is a post about what happened when I decided to watch it. With Nigel. Yes, I took a leap. I’ve been taking a lot of them lately, trusting that I’m doing the right thing. When I rented it, it was with the intention of watching it alone, but given Nigel’s interest in relationships, I thought it might be good for him to see the film, and then we could discuss it and how it relates to him.

And discuss it we did. My son said so many profound things that I was constantly choking on my emotional reactions, trying not to let him see how his words affected me. With the movie, he took it all in. At times, such as when the two main characters were in bed together, he would avert his eyes, and I told him that it was a PG-13 movie, and I didn’t think we needed to be concerned about things going too far on film. Nigel said, “It’s not that. I’m just afraid that he’s going to do or say the wrong thing and mess it up.” And I died inside, thinking of all the times in my son’s everyday life that he must feel that way about himself.

Nigel noticed what difficulty Adam had in a restaurant, and that prompted a discussion about Nigel’s own sensory issues. He remembered how hard it was for him to go into public restrooms because of the air hand driers. “They were like screaming banshees,” he said. And I pointed out that he learned how to filter that sound. “Yeah. They’re still loud, but I can handle them. It seems like Adam couldn’t handle the sounds in the restaurant,” Nigel said, and I could hear some self-confidence (or was it relief?) in his voice that he had progressed to a point where he could handle being in a restaurant. And, Nigel was quick to point out, he’s an extrovert who wants to do social things, whereas Adam is definitely an introvert and experiences much anxiety about doing those things. Nigel may share the lack of social skills, but at least he is motivated to be social, and this made him feel good about himself. He also commented on a scene in which Adam becomes angry and does not deal with it well, raising his voice and throwing things. Nigel said that sometimes anger feels like “a nuclear bomb going off” and “it’s so hard to control it.” But he also realized that he is learning to control it, and that, at fifteen, he is doing a better job of it than Adam.

A couple of areas really seemed to hit home with Nigel. One was the focused talking about “specialist subjects.” For Adam, it was telescope facts and local theater history. For Nigel, it’s a range of all his favorite movies, military history, and his favorite authors (Jules Verne and H.G. Wells). In this area, he is much like Adam—not realizing when he’s going on too long or noticing that he’s monologuing and the person is bored. Nigel believes that he’s got this area under control because, in his social skills class, he’s learned to ask the person if he should continue talking about something. “And if they say ‘yes,’ I do.” But he doesn’t have the awareness to realize when he’s been talking too long and the other person is just being polite.

Also, Nigel totally identified with the big picture social issues. “Normal people usually don’t get different people,” he’d say. Of course, many times I’ve said to him that different people are normal too, but that doesn’t seem to make sense to him. However, toward the end of the movie, he did say, “Eventually, people learn to understand people like . . . us.” I wasn’t sure if he hesitated because he was trying to remember Adam’s name, or if he was processing the fact that he identified with him. It’s been very hard for him in the past, although recently he’s felt better about it.

Overall, I’m glad I watched Adam with Nigel. It’s true that seeing some of the behavior on film was hard for him, but I think that makes him more aware of it. If he knows what the challenges are, he can face them armed with that knowledge. In addition to that, seeing this movie prompted a discussion about the importance of jobs, and that if you get tired of doing your job after just two hours, you can’t say, “I’m done” and then leave. “I have to stay at the job so that I get the paycheck and can support myself,” Nigel said. Halle-freakin-luiah! This understanding is a long time in coming. A long time. For years, he’d say that when he grew up he wanted to be an inventor of time machines and didn’t want to do any other job because it would bore him. I would suggest to him that he might need to do another job while he was inventing the time machine so that he would have money to pay for his food, etc., and this concept was completely lost on him. I don’t know what it was about watching Adam that changed his thinking, but it did, and I’m very glad. I think both of us are a little more optimistic about his future now. And that’s saying a lot about a movie I wasn’t sure I wanted to see in the first place.

One Good Thing

“How old was I when I started to talk?” Nigel asked me one day last week as we drove to the grocery store.

“You were five when you started,” I told him. “But it took several years of learning before you could talk as well as you can now.” I waited for more questions, but that was all he seemed to want to know at the moment. I asked him if he could remember how it was for him before he could talk, if he remembered what it was like when his hearing was so sensitive that many sounds were painful to him, and he said no. “I don’t remember those days.”

But the fact that he talks now, and that he goes online to watch YouTube videos, makes me worry that someday he might stumble across the “I Am Autism” video. And since he is aware of the fact that his parents separated within a year of his autism diagnosis, and then divorced, how will he feel when he hears the ominous voice saying, ” . . . I will make sure that your marriage fails“? His self-esteem is fragile enough, and his own acceptance of his autism has been difficult at best. This video would destroy any gains he might have made. I couldn’t stand for that. Nor do I ever want him to feel responsible for his parents’ divorce.

So tonight, while relaxing on the couch, I gently broach the subject by asking him if he’d ever seen any videos about autism. He tells me that he hasn’t looked, and I say that’s fine. Then I describe the “I Am Autism” video. I tell him that it takes the challenging and difficult aspects of autism and talks about them in a threatening tone. That it blames divorce on autism.

Nigel says, “Probably the people who think that are just insecure.”

“Yes, Nigel,” I say, stunned.  “I think you’re absolutely right.” Where did that come from? How could he instinctively know that? His keen, sensible awareness shocks me. But I have to continue. “I just want to make sure that you would never think that your autism was the cause of your dad’s and my divorce.”

“I don’t,” he states.

“That’s good,” I say. “Because your autism had nothing to do with the divorce.” And then, because we seem to be on a roll, I go on. “I don’t want your self-esteem to suffer because of videos like that. Autism is challenging and difficult sometimes, as you know, but it’s part of your personality and what makes you so unique. But I know sometimes it’s hard for you to accept it. I remember a year or two ago, you would get upset sometimes and say that you hated the autism and wanted to rip it out of your head – ”

“Well, that was just a phase,” Nigel interjects.

“You mean you don’t feel that way anymore?”

“No. I feel fine about it now.”

I reach over to hug him, and he stiffly accepts. “I’m so glad to hear that,” I tell him, my voice catching. For years, autism had caused self-loathing for my son. Maybe something like that should have been mentioned in the video. Maybe it should have been mentioned that autism is not just a struggle for the family members. It’s an even bigger struggle for the ones who have it. Yet they continue to find ways to work with their autism, not against it. And with time, therapy, and a lot of hard work, they can even come to accept it.   

I know that we still have a long way to go. I know that the social issues are going to be a continuing source of strife for my son, just as the sensory issues and language deficit used to be. But there’s one huge thing in place that’s going to help with that – his self-esteem. And that’s one good thing about the “I Am Autism” video – it was the catalyst for an amazing conversation with my son. Not only do I feel better knowing that he doesn’t blame himself for his parents’ divorce,  but he revealed to me that he has accepted his autism. He no longer feels that it makes him defective. He knows that it makes him different, and he’s okay with that. I feel fine about it now, he says.

The air in our home is not the same tonight. A threshold has been crossed, a truce declared. There is a calmness I don’t recall feeling before. A new ease. Contentment.

I smile, remembering. “Just a phase” he said.  – Oh, how I love him.

Trust

Having a special needs child growing up in my home has taught me more about trust than any other element of my life. Especially with my particular child having such an independent spirit and wanting to do things on his own. The problem is that he does not always have the coping tools and social understanding necessary to navigate many situations he could encounter. And so, as he has gotten older and has started wanting to go places on his own, I have learned that lecturing him on safety issues and wringing my hands while he’s gone are not the best ways to cope with the experience.

Of course, all good parents in general are concerned about their children’s safety and well-being when they’re out doing something on their own. I know how it is with a non-autistic child because I have one. I know that even though I have just as much concern for his welfare, the worry is mitigated. He can handle himself far better in situations where other people are involved, which is almost any situation when someone’s away from home. I don’t worry about him causing problems, or about his behavior escalating. I don’t worry about him reacting violently to insects flying near him. I don’t worry about someone tricking him into doing something unsafe or unlawful. And I’m just as relieved when he gets home safely, but while he’s gone, the worry seems more manageable.

For two years now, my autistic teen has been asking me to let him ride his bike to the local grocery store alone. And for many reasons, I kept putting it off. I just didn’t feel that he was ready. Now, since he recently started riding his bike to and from school every day and has demonstrated that he can use a cell phone properly, I can no longer justify not letting him ride to the store, which is just a little farther away than the school.  One afternoon last week, he asked me to let him ride his bike to the store. I put it off, telling him he had to do his chores first. He did them in record time and asked me again, assuring me that he’d be careful. Out of stalling material, I literally wrung my hands and began breathing rapidly, like the beginnings of a panic attack. Nigel noticed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I hemmed and hawed. Finally, I said it. “I just wish you didn’t want to do this, Nigel. It worries me.”

He paused, and then he made eye contact and said, in his flat but beautiful voice, “Mom, sometimes you just have to trust me.”

I almost gasped. A lump quickly formed in my throat. It was one of those rare lucid moments when he says something so simple, yet so profound. Somehow, he knew exactly what to say. “You’re right,” I conceded. “I think you’re ready to do this.”

“I am,” he said in the same resolute tone.

We then did a quick “verbal social story,” since these days he rarely needs them to be written. I verbally walked him through the route he would ride, told him where to lock up his bike, discussed what he would do in the store, and suggested that he not stop to talk to anyone along the way. He could briefly answer a question if someone asked, but then come straight home. We figured out how much time he would need to get there, get his Silly Putty, and come back. Then he left, and I watched him out the window as he rode away. I visualized a herd of angels surrounding him.

While he was gone, I took his advice. I worked at my desk and just trusted. I trusted that he could do this, trusted that he would be all right. And to my surprise, I actually believed it. I did so well that right about the time I thought to check the time, I heard him rattle the side gate to indicate that he was home, putting his bike away. My eyes immediately welled up and I patted them dry as I rose from my desk. Nigel strode into the house and I went to greet him.

“I did it, Mom,” he said calmly, with a hint of pride. “See? I told you I would be fine.”

“You did and you are,” I said, putting my arm around his tall, warm frame. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Thanks for letting me go.”

I tried not to get misty-eyed again. “You’re welcome, honey,” I said.  How did he know that that’s the hardest part of trusting – the letting go? That, as I discovered that afternoon, it’s also the most rewarding?

It’s Time

This is the week for me. The mad-dash week before school starts. All parents know how it is with registration, getting school supplies, checking schedules, that kind of thing. And all special needs parents know how it is with the added emails, calls, meetings, walk-throughs, etc. that are necessary in getting our children set up with the support systems they need to be successful. In a transition year – either starting at a new school or at a new level of school – those efforts are doubled.

This year Nigel starts high school, so he’s at a new level and a new school.  With all the stress I’ve been experiencing lately, I feel like sitting in a corner and rocking, stimming my stress away. So far it’s gone smoothly getting things set up for him, but there is so much time, effort, and energy (mental, emotional, and physical) involved that I feel like I am nearing a breakdown. I so want this to work for him. I want him to be comfortable and confident. I want his needs to be met. I want him to be accepted and appreciated. I want him to focus and learn and also have fun. I don’t want to worry about getting calls at work about behavioral issues because someone has purposefully pushed his buttons. I don’t want to worry about what our options are if this doesn’t work. Please, please, please God, let this work. Let him be happy.

We went to registration today, and then met Nigel’s new case manager. How must this woman feel? I’m sure she’s aware of the fact that we special needs parents place so much hope in her. I know she’s aware of that. In fact, she must have picked up on my desperate vibe, because at one point she said to Nigel, “I’m your school mom.” No one has ever said that before. And I wanted to cry and hug her and thank her because she obviously gets it. She knows how important her role is. I sometimes wonder if these professionals who work so tirelessly with our children, who are devoted to their success and well-being, feel the strain that we parents feel at the beginning of the school year. This combination of hope and anxiety. I should come up with a name for it. After all, it’s not just at the beginning of the school year that I feel it.

Anyway, when she said, “I’m your school mom,” Nigel gave a small, cute smile, like he thought the idea of a “school mom” was silly. But I sensed that it comforted him, and he understood her meaning. In that brief meeting, she really listened to him. I could tell that he felt respected, and comfortable. The regional autism consultant, who has known him since his nonverbal days, was also at the meeting, talking about his strengths and making recommendations. His speech therapist from the past three years was there, and we found out that she would continue to work with him and facilitate the social skills class that he will take. I feel very optimistic, even though the anxiety is hovering in the back of my mind.

However, the bottom line, the “take-away,” is that Nigel didn’t just attend this meeting. He participated. He was slow to answer at times, rarely made eye contact, and was frequently off-topic with his requests and comments, but he was an integral person. And he even remembered to cover his mouth when he yawned, which shocked me after all these years of telling him it’s the polite thing to do. I swear I think it was the first time he ever did it on his own.

But at this meeting he accomplished things that were so much more important than being polite. He spoke up and discussed his needs. He told us which subjects he needed to take at the lower level, and which he didn’t. He mentioned his experience with bullying. He advocated for himself. And I am sitting here in tears as I write this, because the boy who, at the age of five, could not tell a doctor his own name is now advocating for himself. He really is. And I sense that this is only the beginning. It’s like he’s trying to tell me, Mom, I got this. I know it’s not time for me to step back yet. No, there is still much more work for me to do.  But it’s time for me to let him step up. He’s part of the team. Yes, he is.

Pride and Self-Prejudice

This is a hard post to write. I’m even struggling with how to begin. But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time, and I want to address it.

Months ago, I had a little free time (ha!), and I was surfing around looking at T-shirts on Café Press. I found one that I really loved, that I thought I just had to get for Nigel. It said “Autistic and Proud.” I got a lump in my throat just looking at it online, just thinking about how proud I am of my son and how hard he works to “be like everybody else,” as he puts it. I’m proud of how far he’s come, from his days of screaming due to sensory issues and not being able to talk. I think he’s wonderful, and so is every other person on the spectrum. Because all of them are trying so hard just to function in this noisy, bright, busy, often intolerant world of ours.

My moment of pride only lasted a few seconds – and then I remembered that the pride is mine. Nigel – and this is hard to write – is not proud of being autistic. No matter how I applaud his efforts, no matter how often I tell him that he’s got a really great brain, no matter how many times I tell him it’s okay to have autism. Here’s the thing: It’s not okay with him. Nigel has a non-acceptance of his autism. Certainly not denial – he knows it, he accepts that it’s part of him. He doesn’t refute it. But he hates it; he even says, “This stupid autism! I want to rip it out of my head” because of his negative social experiences in the past few years. I try to encourage him, tell him the autism is part of what makes him the fascinating person that he is. That I’ll help him as much as I can with the difficult parts. I know that having the diagnosis is good because it helps him to know the ‘why’ of his behavior and the challenges he faces. Maybe later the self-acceptance will come. I hope it does. Because I hate to see him berate himself and blame the autism and have him wish that it wasn’t a part of him.

But I don’t know how to help him get to that point of self-acceptance, other than to just keep doing what I’m doing. It just makes me so very sad. This is one of those hard things. When they respond well to therapy and learn to talk and adapt to their severe sensory issues so that you can actually take them out in public – when and if they can do all of that, autism is still there, making things hard. I think I wrote my recent “positive” post because I just needed a break from the negative. Because I know I’m not the only one in the house experiencing the negative. It changes over the years – but it never goes away.

And maybe that’s why Nigel feels the way he does about autism. He lives with it; he knows some of what it means for him, and most of it has been negative. I try to point out positive things for him – he learned to read at age three (before he could talk, even), he’s very good with maps, he remembers historical facts easily. And that’s all well and good. But at the end of the day, when you’re fourteen and you just want to be like everybody else, I guess it’s hard to be ‘autistic and proud.’ I just hope, with all of my motherly heart, that he’ll get there someday.

Scouts Are the Best

Last night Nigel had a Scout meeting. I was a bit apprehensive because the last meeting did not go well, meaning Nigel’s behavior. And because I could not pinpoint what had caused his step backward, I worried that he might continue down that road.

But as I have come to learn, autism is nothing if not unpredictable. Inconsistent. And so I shouldn’t have been surprised when Nigel did really well at the meeting last night. He didn’t interrupt anyone, he only got in someone’s face once, and it was brief, he participated and paid attention. He even requested, appropriately, to show the other Scouts something he had brought with him. He needed to bring it in from the car, and the Scoutmaster said that he could do that near the end of the meeting.

And that’s when I got a little nervous. He wanted to show them a little stuffed animal toy that he had received for his recent fourteenth birthday. It was Gizmo, from the movie Gremlins, and he had barely let it out of his sight since he received it Friday night. He had been sleeping with it every night; he brought it with him to his social skills class on Monday. I knew that someone with an emotional age of eight or nine couldn’t realize that typical twelve- to fifteen-year-olds would not find his little stuffed animal to be nearly as intriguing as he did. I wondered what sort of a response to expect from them.

When the time came, Nigel went out to the car and retrieved Gizmo. He reentered the room with it hidden under his jacket and made a big deal out of keeping it a secret until he was ready to reveal it. Of course the boys were wondering what he had under his jacket. A fascinating geode? A live animal? They kept prompting him to show them, and finally he did. I held my breath.

Gizmo

I needn’t have worried. Once he identified what it was, they all said, “That’s cool, Nigel,” and he took it around the room so all of them could look at it, which they politely did. They did not speak to him in a patronizing manner. They did not roll their eyes or make disparaging remarks. They got it. They realized that this was something important to Nigel, and they were supportive. And I wanted to hug all of them.

So here’s a big shout-out to the Scouts of Troop 535 and their parents: You guys are so great. You make Nigel feel accepted, and he appreciates it, and so do I. Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. It means more than you know.

Calamity at Scout Camp

Sometimes a week is just too long. Too long to focus, too long to be socially appropriate, too long to make the right decisions. Too long for there to not be any problems.

Nigel just returned from a week at Scout camp, and for the most part, everything went well. His father also attended, facilitating appropriate social interaction and keeping Nigel on track with the regular Scout duties that he would sometimes rather shirk. But Nigel participated, helped cook and clean, and attended merit badge activities for environmental science, oceanography, archery, and camping. He did really well until the last day.

Nigel, like many autistic individuals, is an animal lover. He loves our cats, his father’s dog, and the rodents we’ve had, including his very own mouse. He loves animals of most kinds, including fish, birds, and reptiles (insects, not so much). And so he was nearly obsessed with the birds’ nest that was at the Scout camp. There were baby birds in it, up in a tree, and all of the Scout groups took turns going to observe the nest. Scouts and adult leaders alike enjoyed watching the baby birds and their parents.  Nigel, more excited than most, decided that he wanted to hold one of the babies.

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. In his attempt to retrieve the nest, it fell to the ground. Afraid that he would get in trouble, he left the scene. Everyone at camp soon discovered that the nest had been knocked down and the babies had died, and they all wondered who was responsible. Nigel’s dad had a feeling, so he privately asked Nigel if he had done it. Nigel, visibly upset, admitted his terrible mistake.

It pains me to think of my poor son in such turmoil, berating himself for not thinking about the consequences of his actions, feeling such guilt and remorse that he caused himself to projectile vomit because of his nerves. He has made mistakes of this magnitude before, and after dealing with the consequences, I’ve always assured him that making mistakes is part of growing up, that we all do it, autistic or not. He often blames his neurological difference, saying, “It’s because of the A word. I have a defective brain.” Telling him that different does not mean defective doesn’t seem to help much.  I hate that “the A word” causes him to devalue himself.

And so we get through the day – the week – with another “learning experience” under our collective belts.  Some weeks there’s just more to learn, I guess.

Autism T-Shirts

Yesterday I noticed at Café Press that there are a lot (thousands!) of great autism awareness T-shirts available. Some of my favorites can be seen by going to this link and then just clicking through the pages. “What? Is my autism showing?” is good, “Hang on, I know I have a social story for this” made me laugh, “Yes, my son has autism. No, he’s not like Rainman” is another good one, “When children cannot learn, it’s time to change the way we teach” hit home with me, as did “Parenting advice not appreciated unless you also have an autistic child.” Amen to that! I think I’ll buy that one! Wish I had it years ago!

There are so many good ones. One I really like is “got autism?” styled like the “got milk?” ads. I don’t know how Nigel would feel about wearing it, though. His favorite T-shirt has a silhouette of Bigfoot on it and says “I believe” across the bottom. He proudly wears it everywhere.

And then I saw a T-shirt that read “Autistic and proud” and I got chills and a lump in my throat. Nigel would probably feel self-conscious about wearing it. But I think the reason why it resonated with me is because I’m so proud of him. Yes, there are plenty of T-shirts that read “I’m proud of my autistic son/daughter/brother/sister/grandchild/etc.” on them. And those are great. But ultimately, I want my son to be proud of himself and all that he has accomplished: wanting to communicate, learning to talk, which was so difficult for him, figuring out how to filter his sensory issues (equally difficult), learning about all the social expectations of this NT world and dealing with its ignorance. But even if he hadn’t done all of that, I would still want him to be proud of his unique, amazing self. All auties should be “Autistic and proud.” I salute every one of them.

Resourcefulness

Yesterday Nigel accidentally spilled water on the keyboard of the computer that he and Aidan share. It did not go over well, and Nigel’s self-beratement matched Aidan’s exasperation. Fortunately, I had a spare keyboard in the closet, leftover from when I got my new computer last year and had opted to use my cordless ergonomic keyboard. But the spare keyboard needed the newer USB port, which the kids’ six-year-old computer did not have, so it wouldn’t work. 

Voila! I found an adapter! I plugged the USB cable into the adapter and put the adapter into the old, round keyboard plug on the back of their computer. Still nothing! The adapter turned out to be for the mouse port!! Then I thought to look at my old corded ergonomic keyboard, and it had the right plug – the old round kind! I plugged it in, feeling premature triumph, and then . . . nothing! I’m guessing that their brand of computer, Microtel, is not compatible with Microsoft accessories. Who could have guessed that the two spare keyboards I bothered to save would not work at all when needed? What a wasted effort!

Meanwhile, Nigel had taken apart the old keyboard that he had spilled the water on (he asked me first if he could), and it was in about 95 pieces spread out all over the living room floor. I took a deep breath and went online to see if I could find any Microtel keyboards. I found one, but of course it was new, so it had a USB plug instead of the old round kind. So then I started looking for a whole new freaking computer, since we need a computer for homeschool work. Gah!!

In the midst of that, the boys’ father called, so I told him what happened, and he said that he had some high school buddy who refurbished old computers and that he’d give him a call. I decided to start making dinner, and once again yelled out to anyone within earshot that they are to never have food or drinks around the computer. Ever!

After dinner, Nigel matter-of-factly stated that the keyboard was completely dry and he had put it back together. I had thought that he was going to take it apart to play with the parts, but he had taken it apart to dry it out. Aidan matter-of-factly suggested that they try plugging it back in to see if it would work now that it was dry. I said, “Go ahead and try, but it probably won’t work.”

It worked. The damn thing actually worked.

Nigel said, matter-of-factly but with an unmistakable surge of self-esteem, “I used my resourcefulness.” He never ceases to amaze me. Here I thought I was being resourceful by saving the spare keyboards and trying the adapter and researching to find a replacement. I had just assumed that the keyboard would no longer work.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded to fix what is broken. That should be the first step in being resourceful. That and not making any assumptions – about things or people, and what they’re capable of accomplishing.

Medication Check-in

Yesterday I forgot to give Nigel his Zoloft. All day long I was wondering why he was being so difficult: irritable, non-compliant with any little thing, lashing out, complaining, and then, sometime after dinner, it hit me. I had forgotten to give him his medication that morning.

It was good to note that the Zoloft really does make a difference for him. I had already forgotten (or probably blocked the memories of) how he had been the months prior to medicating him. His anxiety level was so high that he was constantly irritated and often lashed out. I remember one afternoon going into his room and noticing that his desk chair (the kind with the adjustable, pedestal-supported seat on rollers, with a curved metal bar covered in ribbed plastic connecting the seat and the chair back) had been broken. He had ripped off the chair back, wrenching it off of the bolts that connected it to the curved bar. I tried to fix it, but the damage was beyond repair. I ended up removing the curved bar so that the chair is now just a rolling seat with no back.

I asked Nigel what had happened to the chair. He said in a low voice, “It was because of my anger. I feel different from everyone. I have a defective brain because of the a-word.”

He has referred to autism as “the a-word” for a few years now, ever since he asked “What’s wrong with me?” and I told him about autism. That day with the vandalized chair in front of us, I assured him, as I have on so many occasions, that his brain is not defective, it’s just wired differently. I reminded him that he has a very good brain that taught him to read at age three and a half. He seemed to feel a little better.

But since going on Zoloft almost two months ago, he has not destroyed anything because of self-esteem issues. He is more relaxed, more comfortable in his skin. He sleeps better. He no longer eats his hair. He doesn’t talk about his brain being defective. He is happier, I think. It pained me to think of him breaking his belongings because he feels angry about being different, that his self-esteem should suffer because of autism. If Zoloft can alleviate any of that, then I’m sticking with it. Nigel never balks at taking it. It makes me wonder if he notices the difference in how he feels. I think he does. He just isn’t able to put it into words.