Hello. My name is Suzanne Mitchell, and I am a wife, mother, published author, certified teacher with a master’s degree in education, and yes, I am an autism mama bear. My husband and I have been together since we were teenagers (I am now 44…yikes!), and we have two beautiful children. Joey is sixteen, and Shayna is thirteen. Joey has severe autism. He is not very verbal, not potty trained, and is prone to aggressive meltdowns. Shayna, who has no disability, is the very best “big sister” that a little sister could be. We may only have one family member who has been officially diagnosed, but we are indeed an autism family.
My little family is my heart and soul, and as crazy and unpredictable as our life can be, it is my job (as it is with many mothers) to keep our daily life flowing as smoothly as possible. Using the words “smooth” and “autism” in the same breath, is quite possibly one of the biggest oxymorons ever uttered by a human being. Ironically, adequate words (that unfortunately escape my son) do not exist to describe the lengths that this mama bear will go to for her children.
The most obvious difference for autism mama bears is that those seemingly insurmountable and often surreal scenarios that we all go through as humans occur with more intensity and frequency than one might expect from the family of an average Joe (pun fully intended). The stories are truly endless. I could probably write a book called 101 Autism Stories, and have plenty of leftover material (Oh yeah, I did!! Check out the link to my book below), but for the purposes of this story, I’ve decided to go ahead and let you in on few of this autism mama bear’s best-kept secrets.
ALWAYS BE PROACTIVE: There are enough unknowns in any given autism day, so I try not to wait for the old and familiar triggers to rear their ugly heads. I know what makes my boy tick, and I have found that staying a step or two ahead, and giving him every possible chance for success, can make a huge difference in the outcome of his (our) day. Here are just a few examples:
* My Joey hates unexpected, loud noises, so he wears noise canceling/sound blocking headphones almost 100 percent of the time. His “home” headphones are thinner than the ones he wears to school and out in public, but he is much more comfortable in his own skin when he has access to either pair.
* When going out for a little adventure, I always do my best to plan ahead. It may be a restaurant manager that I may need to speak with in advance to accommodate our very “special” list of needs that is far too lengthy to include here. It may be finding a movie theater where I quietly explain to those sitting near us that my son has severe autism, and will likely be a bit bouncy and noisy during the movie. I do these things so that if other patrons of a restaurant or members of an audience would like to move before the meal or film starts, they have the option. Better to be proactive than to try and deal with people once they are confused and irritated. In all of my years as an autism mama bear, I have only had one little pair of old ladies move away from us in a theater, and they were absolute apologetic sweethearts who were only concerned that they may not be able to hear the movie.
* Larger adventures require more planning, and over the years, this mama bear has learned to go straight to the top when it comes to addressing the needs of her sweet and complicated boy. From hotel general managers, airline CEOs, and doctors, to school district superintendents, transportation coordinators, and other medical “specialists”…. nobody knows my boy better than I do. I would rather be able to give an accurate description of what we require while everything is calm than wait until we are in the middle of meltdown/crisis mode before attempting to help people understand. That would not be beneficial to anybody.
ALWAYS LEAD WITH LOVE. My family’s comfort and well-being are always at the front of my mind. People may have their own opinion about us, but I truly believe that, given the circumstances, our family is pretty darn fantastic (a completely unbiased opinion of course). Forever on this adventure together, we can weather any storm. I may not do everything right, but nobody can ever say that this autism mama bear didn’t try.
Check out my book about our crazy autism family life. It’s a laugh, cry, and learn a little kind of thing... All short stories, and an easy and entertaining read.
Suzanne Mitchell is an author/autism mom, and will be a regular contributor to ChildNEXUS.com. Please feel free to email your comments and/or questions directly to her.
Suzanne Mitchell can be reached at SuzDarJo@aol.com