Blog #238~Autism: Welcome to My Life… Sleep Number is Zero
Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month is winding down, but for countless families living with autism it will continue beyond April, and often includes a sleep number of zero. That is the opening chapter of the book, Welcome to My Life: A Personal Parenting Journey Through Autism by author Laurie Hellman. My son Nick, is 27 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). I am quite familiar with sleepless nights followed by the fog and exhaustion that comes with autism. But this book is much more than sleepless nights. The author takes you through a journey that is a honest portrayal of what autism is like, often raw but always filled with compassion and love.
What I find refreshing about the book, Welcome to My Life, is that it depicts many of the aspects that families deal with when autism is profound. Author Laurie Hellman, pulls back the curtain and lets you in to see the dents in the walls, the internal, detailed pre-planning before any event outside the home and yes…..the literal shit show, because trust me it happens. I found myself nodding my head, getting teary eyed and laughing, as her stories were so relatable. Laurie’s love and determination for her son mirrors mine. Finally, there are many lessons that Laurie offers in her book:
“Skyler teaches me to be brave, strong and courageous. he’s taught me that when I am tired and feel like giving up, I can keep going.” Laurie Hellman
It was heart wrenching to read about the additional health struggles associated with Laurie’s son, Skyler. I admire how she poured over research and turned over every stone to find answers and treatment to help him. As a mother of a child with autism, I understood the feelings of grief over what might have been. In my book A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism-(https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X) I wrote about all the milestones that my son missed out on, like getting his driver’s license, going to the prom and eventually heading off to college. Did you know parent’s of individuals with autism sometimes find it easier to smile and say everything is fine? Why? Because quite frankly on some days it’s just too much to unpack. When autistic kids can’t process overstimulation it can lead to meltdowns, and as a parent you are right in the path of any collateral damage. Laurie writes about how her son can’t verbally communicate so he may lash out by swatting her arm or smacking her leg…..
“On most days, I think to myself, Does he even like me?” Laurie Hellman
After 27 years of navigating DS-ASD with my son, I have learned the function of such behaviors. I cope, by putting them in the compartment of brain rewired differently with autism. I don’t take it personally, when Nick hits me anymore, because he is mostly non-verbal. I recognize that these behaviors are his means to communicate when he feels overwhelmed and not being heard.
I think that what you will learn from reading books about autism like ours, is that if you met one person with autism…. you met one person with autism. Each is a unique journey, because autism is a spectrum disorder. Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month is about understanding these journeys and different perspectives. With better understanding our society can be more kind, patient and compassionate:
“Simple acts of kindness go such a long way and can restore my sometimes-crumbling faith in humanity.” Laurie Hellman
Moving beyond Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month, I encourage you to continue to learn more about autism. Share our stories so we can make this a bigger narrative. That sleep number of zero is real, along with the challenges associated, especially when autism is profound. Understanding leads to acceptance. It means showing kindness by making some room at the table for all abilities and behaviors of autistic individuals along with their families.
That’s what is in my noggin this week.
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