By Wendy Lyman
Sharing Progress & Seeking Understanding
For twenty-two years now, I have been unable to honestly answer the question, how is your son doing? Whether speaking with acquaintances or close friends who asked about him, I felt the need to be honest without dumping everything on them. It was a delicate balancing act of doling out the hint of challenges versus bombarding them with details at the peril of alienating everyone with whom I spoke. I think this was sparked by the earlier years of Noah’s childhood, when several of my friends would tell me to relax and that my son would pass through this phase, turning out just fine.
My friends did not understand. Consequently, I came to believe that if I sugarcoated Noah’s progress or health, people would imagine something unrealistically typical and never understand my pain.
That is a hard thing to admit – that I wanted my friends to understand my suffering. I never actually explained to them what made raising Noah so challenging; it was too exhausting. Still, I wanted them to somehow get me, to glean what I was not saying, and to see how brave I was.
But I don’t think that is what happened at all. I am afraid that, in reality, they saw me as a pessimist who was holding my son back through my negativity. More importantly, I am now afraid that they were right.
Fake It Till You Make It
It calls to mind one of the mantras of Noah’s special needs school: Fake it till you make it.
I understood it then as it pertained to greeting staff in the morning with a handshake, looking them in the eye when they said good morning, and saying please and thank you even if you did not feel the gratitude. The mantra was a necessary tool to teach the neurodiverse students that new behavioral habits could be formed and that the students would eventually find these behaviors natural.
And Noah did. Without thinking twice, Noah now shakes hands with new people he meets, and he always (yes, always) says please and thank you.
But what about me? Why hadn’t I learned to fake it till I made it?
A Journey In Baby Steps
And that reminds me of baby steps. Throughout Noah’s upbringing, we have used this term to encourage Noah along his journey. At times, that phrase became a crutch for him as no step seemed too small. So, we recently reminded him that babies eventually become toddlers and that it was, therefore, time for toddler steps. He seems to understand what we are asking, and he is trying to meet the bigger challenges.
All this has me thinking that baby steps not only apply to my son’s progress but also to my own. It takes practice to say things that you might not feel in your heart but which you know are what polite society demands. It is a skill that the neurodiverse do not easily learn but which the rest of us are expected to assimilate.
It has been twenty-two years, and the buck stops here. It is high time I accepted the challenge that my son took on fifteen years ago. I have therefore committed to speaking positively about my son and visualizing his emotional growth, hopefully helping him manifest the success he craves.
Now, when asked how my son is doing, I fight the instinct to tell what I used to believe was the only truth. I can now resist the urge to fall into the habitual response of, so-so…you know Noah, and instead say out loud, he’s doing well.
It does not matter what others think. It does not matter if they want to imagine he is suddenly finishing school or working a job, because they will never know the genuine struggle that he faces every day of his life. What matters is that I recognize his progress even if it does not measure up to others’ standards. What matters is that by verbalizing to outsiders that my son is doing well, I am starting to believe it.
Wendy Lyman is the mother of two children: an adult son with a slew of acronym diagnoses, including ASD, OCD, GAD, and UC (ulcerative colitis), as well as a neurotypical adult daughter who grew up in the shadow of her older brother. Wendy is also an ESL professor and writer of six published novels (as Wendy Ramer). A Floridian by birth and upbringing, Wendy now lives in Virginia. You can find more out more about her on LinkedIn and Amazon.