Thursday, April 5, 2012

Step 5: Finding humor in "Life with Autism."

My "other" blog that slowly but surely I'm adding all of my writings and reflections about our life with autism to, is quite creatively called: "Life with Autism".

I've shared many stories there about how we choose to find humor in not so humorous situations.  From that very first, "If someone says 'Good Morning' to me, I'll punch them out" -- we've learned that for us, to cope, to survive, we can't let each and every challenge or disaster shatter our sanity.  Since we don't have mental health coverage and can't afford psychotherapy, we've simply had to learn how to laugh so that we could survive.  And dare I say because of that, thrive.

Let me reiterate, there is absolutely, positively, nothing at all funny about the crisis, the national emergency, the epidemic of autism.  An epidemic that robs children the very essence of being a child.  I don't mean to demean that.  I simply mean to share how for us, we have had to use humor to help us through it.

The story my husband shared in like day two, was true.  That was the beginning of our "adventures in humor" so to speak.  Riding in the car with Brandon at that time in the early days of autism was an absolute nightmare.  When we did arrive at church one morning after a particularly loud commute, my husband did say, "If anyone says 'Good Morning' to me, I'll punch them out."   So as we walked in the church, of course each greeter we passed reached out to shake his hand and say, "Good Morning!"  I cannot tell you how hilarious that was for me to think, "Oh buddy, you best duck and run for your dear life!" 

I guess if I were to have any strength in me, it would be having whatever part of faith it is that allows me to know that if I can't change a situation, I might as well make the best of it.  Todd has been shaped by that, and so has Matt.  Matt's favorite expression after any "Brandon'ism" is "You just can't make this stuff up!"  Our attitudes have shaped his to where he hasn't and won't ever need counseling for depression because of having a brother with a disability.  For having a neurotic mother who texts him every five minutes while he's on a date with his girlfriend perhaps, but not because of autism or the hardships in life.

Autism has taught us to laugh, to be able to laugh at ourselves, and to not be embarrassed or care what people think of us and our situation.  When going out in public, we've learned to embrace the inner "three-ring-circus" in us.  When Brandon's humming is excessively loud in the store, I just hummmm along with him.  When people stare, I simply invite them to join us if they know the hummmmm song!

When in church service Brandon breaks free of his "Joy-buddy" and runs across the stage, after a brief consideration of joining the others in looking around the church for where that kid's parents are and then the debate of "you get him," "no, you!" -- we both decide to share in the humiliation and as gracefully as we can run up on stage to get him and then bow to the audience in exiting.

I remember a period of time when parts of our house were flooded like five different times.  Brandon had a penchant for turning on faucets, showers, tubs, and then leaving the water running.  We would find out a bit too late.  One such time I was in the bathroom trying to contain the flood to just that room, our room, and the closet.  Todd had come home from work and as his usual routine, would go to the bedroom to change clothes.  I looked up and said something like, "How was your day?  You can obviously see how mine is going!"  Without missing a beat, he would simply take off his shoes and socks, roll up his pant legs, then return with the shop vac.  No need for panic, no need to be mad, we have just learned how to roll with the flow so to speak!

Another time we had just returned from church and left Brandon at the table eating lunch while we went to change out of church clothes.  When we came back out Brandon had left the table and wandered upstairs to the bathroom to turn on the shower and faucets.  So as we're looking for him, we happen to hear water running.  Todd goes upstairs to get him, and for some reason I had gone to the garage.  I opened the garage door to be sprayed with water.  The water from the upstairs had gone down through the garage ceiling where we had a ceiling fan.  The fan was going and as water dripped down, the fan sprayed it everywhere. 

Even though we laugh at how many times over the years our house has been flooded, that highlights a huge aspect of life with autism.  You simply cannot have a "normal" parent moment.  You can't have the normal occurrence of forgetting to lock a door.  If you do, then your house gets flooded.  If you forget to shut the garage door and lock the inside garage door, you end up in a horrific panic when you find your son has escaped and wandered off. 

The stakes are high when you have a child with autism who has absolutely no sense of danger.  You simply are not allowed the luxury of human moments of forgetfulness.  You are not allowed the luxury of one second off watch.

It's things like that which make up how in so very many ways autism affects a family.  Who would think you would have to put dead-bolts on each door of each room of your house so your 8 year-old child can't go in the bathrooms and flood them.  Who would have thought that we would have to live in a house with more locks than Fort Knox.

I love the line in a song that goes, "....on the edge of crazy yet not far from sane."  I often describe myself as a Stark-Raving-Mad-Laughing-Lunatic who loves the Lord!  That is true, you have to be a little bit crazy to deal with a whole lot of crazy!

There's just no other way to deal with walking through the grocery store thinking that everyone you pass really has bad body odor, then happening to notice that on your pant leg is some "leaky gut" smears from yet another leaky gut accident you had to clean up off the bed, the walls, the floor, your child. 

There's no other way to get through sitting in the front row of church all dressed nice, then going home to change clothes and realizing that you had your shirt on inside out.  So stressed in simply trying to get to church in the morning, that you don't even have a minute to look at yourself to see if you are dressed.  Let alone dressed properly!

Autism has taught me to not take myself so seriously in that way.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been on the main aisle of Wal-Mart and had Brandon randomly and in a split-second, throw something from the cart.  Now when we go to Wal-Mart, they know to announce on the overhead speakers, "Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers, until the Guppy's leave, beware of flying objects!"

One of my very favorites were the jelly beans at Easter.  I would open the corner of a bag and give Brandon one at a time to help me get through the store.  I guess I wasn't paying attention, and of course when we were on the main aisle, he picked up that bag and flung it.  For a whole minute there were jelly beans bouncing and rolling across the slick floor!  In humiliation one must turn to humor.  I think I replied to all the stares with something like, "Yeah, his mother doesn't discipline him enough."

Todd eventually saw the benefit of a humming son on a family shopping afternoon.  He and Matt would typically do their "tool and electronics" thing, and Brandon and I would do our thing.  Whenever we were ready to find each other, they would just listen for the loud humming and follow it.

When your husband comes home from work and walks through the front door to unexpectedly step in something that Brandon left behind that shouldn't be on the floor but is -- and goes sliding into oblivion across slick tile, you can do nothing in reaction but yell, "Safe!"

It's things like that through the years that truly have made us a family that can laugh in the face of adversity.

It's things like that that have helped us truly know when something is serious and when something is merely an inconvenience.  Something to just grin and bear.  Laugh about.

It's things like being blindsided and smacked square on the side of your head with a large cherry slushy perfectly launched by your child with autism from the backseat of the van while you're driving and having to continue that drive home with very cold cherry slushy dripping down your face, hair, back -- that teaches you that while you have to take autism seriously, you don't have to take yourself quite so seriously.

Autism daily teaches us both humor and humility.

And to not ever again give our son something to drink in the van.