“Like other kids on the spectrum, change is really difficult for Gabe. We try to keep things at home as low-key and routine as possible, and at school, he’s in a very structured setting. As a parent, I always have to be on my toes, always two steps ahead. I have to think about what might potentially upset or over-stimulate him and either avoid it or prepare him for it. Grocery shopping, restaurants, breaks in routine, or places where there are too many people or too many lights may trigger a meltdown.
“Public meltdowns don’t happen as often as they used to, but when they do, they’re really tough. People stand around, watch, and offer all kinds of parenting advice. They’ll say things like, ‘Give me 5 minutes in the car with him. I’ll beat his ass and straighten him out!’ That’s more upsetting than the meltdown itself. People assume this is some kid throwing a tantrum, but that’s not it at all. You don’t deal with it the same way. I’ve had to learn to tune out what people say and just attend to Gabe. I take his face in my hands, help him make eye contact, and give him tight hugs. That deep pressure helps him to calm down. As he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to handle himself better. It helps too that we have access to many more resources than we did when he was younger.
“Gabe is 10 now and of course we talk to him about it. We tell him, ‘You have autism, and that’s why you have to work harder at this or that.’ We don’t hide it from him, but he doesn’t always understand it either.
“Despite the challenges, there are a lot of things Gabe is good at. He loves to bake, has a great memory, can read well (but doesn’t necessarily like to), loves learning about the solar system, enjoys music, can identify numerous composers, loves creating videos, is good at computers, and loves to draw. We don’t see limits if he wants to do something with computers or movie production someday, but right now we just want him to get through 3rd grade. He’s not a big fan of school.
“He loves the cat though. He begged for one for two years and knew exactly what it should look like. It definitely had to be gray! One day at a pet adoption event, Gabe bent over, looked into one of the cages, and said, ‘Oh, there you are!’ When the cage was opened, a gray cat walked out, bypassed my husband and me and went straight to Gabe. Jupiter barely tolerates my husband and me, but he’ll let Gabe handle him all day long.
“It goes without saying that we would have adopted our son no matter what. While I am not always ‘God this and God that’, I do believe that Gabe was destined to be our child. This bighearted, loving, funny, sweet and sometimes overwhelmingly angry and stressed boy has had our hearts since we first heard his name.
“It’s interesting, though, what goes through his mind sometimes (*pause*) Once in a while, he’ll say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m from this planet.’”