We opened the door to the clinic and knew immediately that this wasn’t going to work. The developmental pediatrician’s waiting room was jammed with parents and young children. Noisy children. I was pretty sure most of them were families in those early stages of trying to figure things out for their newly diagnosed kids.
We hadn’t been to this office in a number of years. We are “been-there-done-that” autism parents now, and it’s been awhile since there’s been anything an autism specialist could really offer us.
Well, until now. Our teenager’s anxiety, and the self-injurious behavior and aggression that stems from it, is our reason for returning, to meet with a new psychiatrist, adjust meds, discuss options, and try to find our way back to calm.
So, yes, we brought our stressed-out kid to a noisy, crowded, unfamiliar office to get help for his anxiety that worsens in noisy, crowded, unfamiliar places. That makes sense.
Of course, my son was not having it.
We made it three steps toward the check-in desk, and he’d already morphed into 160 lbs of freak-the-hell-out-anxiety-on-steroids. He began immediately to pound his fists together and punch himself in the stomach. He does this gallop-stomp thing, slamming his feet into the floor, again and again. He adds to the noise in the room with his own sounds that translate to “get me outta here”—just in case his parents aren’t getting the message through his clear body language.
In this space, there is no room to keep him or anyone else safe. Everyone is too close, too loud. Abort! Abort!
As my husband literally muscled my ramped-up son back out the door, I grabbed the clipboard of paperwork from the receptionist and told her that the doctor would have to find us outside.
When I turned around from the desk, I could see my agitated father-son duo standing outside of the glass doors, just beyond the comparatively calm moms and dads who filled the reception area, awaiting their chance to meet with their doctors and gather hopeful prognoses for their sweet lil’ young ones.
I stood in the middle of the room, threw my arms above my head like a crazed Doomsday prophet and shouted, “Buckle up, newbies!!! This is coming! Here’s what you’re in for!!”
OK, that last part didn’t happen.
I would never do that.
I can barely admit to even thinking it, because it sounds so harsh and probably makes me seem a bit unstable.
But the image of actually doing that made me laugh.
And, you know, sometimes nothing is left to you…but to have a good laugh.
I texted my close friends later that day, confessing my impulse to cruelly yank back the curtain on the reality of autism-parent adolescence. They laughed with me.
They also reminded me, as they often do, that writing about this aspect of our story—the hard parts I rarely talk about, and how we cope—can help other caregivers who are facing similar challenges. Just to know that they aren’t alone. To hear someone else admit, “Hey, this is hard.”
The situations we find ourselves in—through every phase of this parenting trek, trying our best to support and safeguard our children—can be stressful and scary, completely exhausting and utterly overwhelming. If I couldn’t also see something in these moments as supremely ridiculous and funny, I don’t know how I’d get through.
I don’t like to give other parents advice, because I’m winging it just like everybody else. But I will say this. Whatever else you do to help your child, do this for yourself.
When you’re going through a rough patch, find a way to laugh about it, even for a moment. Laugh with others who understand, and it becomes, I think, a little easier to bear. I am lucky to have a husband and friends who share my sense of life-saving humor.
If I couldn’t laugh at the image of myself losing it and scaring the crap out of a group of doe-eyed new parents?
I might actually become that crazy lady in the waiting room.
No one really wants to see that.
Note: This image is just so perfect for this piece, and so borderline-offensively wrong. Sorry but it makes me laugh too (I told you I might be a bit unstable). Thanks to the artists at Pixabay.com for both of these images.