My Take on My Aspie Son’s Journey
I knew something was “off” about Jason when he was nearing the age of two and unable to converse regularly. At least, that was the most glaring difference between him and his peers. He also had lots of food issues, was sensitive to tags in clothes and getting wet (unless he was in his swimsuit in a pool), afraid of flies and other flying insects, and hated the vacuum cleaner. If I pulled it out, he’d retreat upstairs.
Because of his speech problem, I got him into the school district’s early childhood learning center, so I lucked out. Even without the autism diagnosis, he got early intervention. In fact, he got more schooling than his older sister, Allison, who was just beginning kindergarten that year. It was so strange to see him picked up by a school bus every day after we’d walked Allison to her morning kindergarten. I’d then pick her up around noon and have to wait until about 3 pm before the school bus would return with Jason.
But it made a huge difference. Not only did he get free pre-school, speech therapy three times a week, and occupational therapy (to help develop his gross and fine motor skills) twice a week, the staff at the Sunshine School helped potty train him and get him involved socially. By the end of two and a half years, he was practically the smartest kid on campus. In fact, he’d improved so much that he had to leave the program and be put in a regular pre-school for the last 3 months of that school year.
He’d even taught himself to read using the Muppets computer software program I’d gotten for Allison. Sure, he still had food issues and was “tactilely defensive” as the staff put it, but he was talking up a storm, and I began to think I had a budding genius on my hands. That was kind of confirmed when his regular kindergarten teacher raved about his reading level. So I got busy in the school’s PTO, intent on making sure they had an adequate GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program.
Then First Grade came, and that meant recess with bigger kids—first through third graders. It wasn’t long before I knew something was wrong. He was getting teased and taunted on the playground for the way he played . . . or didn’t play. After some intensive online research, I finally came up with something that seemed to match my son pretty well—Asperger’s Syndrome. This was in 1999 and I’d never heard of it before. Neither had his first grade teacher, though she did agree that he fit the profile. A school psychologist was called in and he got the official diagnosis at age six. To be certain, I got a second opinion from a local neuropsychologist. She concurred.
It was both a relief and a death sentence.
It was a huge relief to know he wasn’t just “odd,” that there were others out there like him, and that there were physical things going on in his brain at the root of these behaviors and social challenges. It had only been an official diagnosis in the U.S. for five years by then but there were already several books on the topic.
But the more I read these books (and I tried to get my hands on nearly every one available), the more I felt this diagnosis was a death sentence to so many of the hopes and dreams I’d had for my son. Only a few days after I’d gotten the second opinion from the neuropsychologist, we went to the baseball park to sign Allison up for softball. The new little league teams were being introduced that day and I realized my son would never play on one of those teams. I had been a tomboy growing up and I’d longed to teach my son how to bat and throw a baseball, shoot hoops, kick a soccer ball.
But let me skip ahead to the most important part for me as an LDS mother. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sets out a pretty straightforward path for young men: baptism and Cub Scouts at 8, Boy Scouts at 11, ordination to the Priesthood at 12, talks in Sacrament Meeting, hopefully attaining Eagle Scout status by 18, a mission at 18 or 19, then college and/or career with marriage and family falling somewhere in there before 30, hopefully.
How did this path work for my son?
It took a lot of patience to get him baptized because the idea of getting anything other than a swimsuit wet was really difficult for him. He stuck with Cub Scouts for one and a half years…enough for one Pinewood Derby. Scouting was basically out. It just didn’t interest him, so we put him in children’s theatre instead. He was ordained a Deacon at 12, but his last talk in Primary was the last time in years that he addressed any church group. He showed no interest in the Duty to God program, but did what he could to progress in the Priesthood. He home taught with his dad, gradually getting accustomed to visiting people he hardly knew let alone cared about.
As a returned missionary myself, I wondered how or even if he would continue to grow in the gospel. Aspies take everything very literally and so much about the gospel is intuitive, feeling oriented, and symbolic. Fortunately, he did show a real interest in the Redlands Temple when we toured it before its dedication. He did say he felt a real peace there. But other than that, he seemed to be in limbo spiritually. He’d take part in family scripture study and family home evenings, but it seemed to be only out of a sense of duty.
Then we moved to Richland, Washington and into a ward where the youth were supportive and welcoming. Three older boys, three years older than him, took him under their wing and since they were so popular at school and in Seminary, he gained new friends quickly. They loved his sense of humor and all of his little quirks. He enjoyed Seminary and began to develop a greater understanding of the gospel. They challenged him to bear his testimony, but he was still too afraid. Twice he tried to bear his testimony in Fast and Testimony Meeting as a teenager and froze, balked, or ran out of the chapel.
He graduated high school with honors and, at my urging, began the Pathway Program sponsored by BYU-Idaho. He completed the courses, but balked at Math, which has always been difficult for him. Again, I found myself wondering how to best prepare this young man to be independent and self-sufficient.
And then we moved again . . . to St. George, Utah. We did it to be closer to relatives on both sides, but also to give Jason an opportunity to be around more Young Single Adults. He’s 20 now and all his friends are off at college and/or on missions, and those three older guys are all married after completing honorable missions. He needed more friends, even if he didn’t recognize it at the time.
At first, I wasn’t sure the bishop in his YSA ward here even knew who Jason was. But he did, and he had a plan. After 4-5 months, he gave Jason a challenge: bear your testimony in Fast and Testimony meeting, even if you have to write it out. Wonder of wonders, he did! He read what he’d written and then added a few things off the cuff. The bishop congratulated him and then challenged him to do it again the following month without notes. He did! And then the bishop asked to meet with him.
He told him he’d been praying and he felt Jason was ready to serve a local Church service mission in the St. George Temple. He wanted to meet with him weekly and have him attend the temple prep classes over the next few weeks.
Then last Sunday, we got the great news: Jason will receive his temple endowment the end of this month and will begin his mission in the temple on August 1st. Somehow, I know he’s in the Lord’s hands and whatever career and family awaits him will come through his temple service.
I feel like Hannah presenting her son, Samuel, to the Lord for service in His holy house. I know Jason will be in good hands . . . the best of hands.
Follow Tanya on her website: www.tanyaparkermills.com
Story written by: Tanya Parker Mills
This story was seen first on Real Imprints.