this is my boy.
my “invisible boy”.
I SEE YOU SON!
I WILL ALWAYS SEE YOU!
my youngest son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism by an amazing psychologist when he was 26 months old… Dr. Audrey Blakeley-Smith of JFK Partners/University of Colorado/Children’s Hospital Denver Development Pediatrics. we are so grateful for her presence in our lives. she is someone who has always opened her door to us in times of feeling overwhelmed with the issues associated with the diagnosis of autism. for years we followed her advice and set our son up with therapies, private therapists, outside resources and programs to help him gain the social and emotional skills needed to navigate our overly social world. she is the definition of a caring professional who not only understands autism but goes the extra mile time and again to help the entire family unit navigate ongoing issues and concerns. i honestly can’t find the words to express how much we adore and respect her for all that she has done. thank you for always ‘seeing’ our boy and for caring about him so much through the years.
she has coached our son (and us) for the past 8 years. she has helped him along with way with a variety of autism related issues that transfer to this crazy social world of ours. she’s gone ABOVE and BEYOND to get us the resources we’ve needed to help our boy. we are currently struggling with the abstract concept of friendship: having friends and being a friend, understanding friendships and how important connections are in this overly social world. it’s an overwhelming concept for him and will probably continue to be for the rest of his life.
you see–with a diagnosis of ‘high-functioning autism’ it’s quite easy for our bright boy to fly under the radar at school. academically he’s doing pretty well and is in a regular classroom with no supports. ‘school’ in its traditional sense is pretty easy for him–particularly math where he is labeled as ‘gifted’. so in an academic environment he would not be flagged for anything or needing any extra help. at the “suggestion” of the school psychologist we removed his IEP a few years ago as he was functioning well academically. after my rather bumpy ovarian cancer journey i insisted that he be given a 504 plan to ensure that his teachers are aware of his diagnosis and that supports are in place to make sure he has the tools to navigate the other softer aspects of school on his own. i have alway been his advocate. i understand that these soft skills are even more important for kids like my son and that the need for teaching them in school can, and often is, overlooked. in my mind, ‘character education’ is just as important as basic academic skills. kids learn social skills from a very early age and the ones who struggle are often silently overwhelmed in school. so many kids on the spectrum push those emotions away as they are not ones that can be labeled and categorized. they are abstract and dark. this is something that has been silently happening to my son. and like all things that are unresolved and churning inside someone–they will often reveal themselves in unusual ways.
so what’s been happening with my boy is that he starts to retract, to internalize his emotions and to express his building frustrations in new and surprising ways.
friendship is currently where he is struggling. and this, clearly, is not something that is addressed during school hours. kids are left on their own during the times when peer-to-peer interactions are at their height– group work, lunchtime and recess.
i did some research and came up with a list of books and materials to help begin the dialogue at home about some of his frustrations (in addition to seeing our wonderful psychologist every few weeks). we picked up a copy of The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton this weekend and LOVED it for a wealth of reasons. firstly it is a fantastic book that tackles the issues of friendships (and the give and take associated with them). i believe each of us at some point has struggled with feeling ‘invisible’ in our lives–unappreciated and unremarkable within the crowds we’ve found ourselves in. most of us eventually process this and work to make strides to move forward. after reading the book my son opened up to me about some issues that were bothering him. and i opened up to him as well…sharing issues with him about how i’ve felt ‘invisible’ in my own life.
as a mom, an introvert and a shy kid myself i’ve always wanted to keep connections open with my kiddos. it all sparked when i began treatment for ovarian cancer. my kids were so small and surely so scared. i wanted a place where we could keep the dialogue open as well as a safe place for them to vent their concerns and fears. so i started a journal project with them. it was a place where they would write and i would write them back. over the years it’s morphed into a very cool ritual with them…one that i treasure and hope that they will someday treasure as well. we’ve filled several journals in the years since i finished treatment and, to be honest, those books are the first material things i’d grab in the event of a fire or disaster. their feelings are so special to me.
so in writing to my son this quiet morning i couldn’t believe the two pages of emotions i poured out into his book about feeling invisible over the years and how i too have struggled with friendships and relationships (especially with my family, which i am very open about). it was so cathartic to spill my feelings to him on those pages.
it’s been a theme that’s run thoroughout my life to make sure that other’s don’t feel invisible…whether it be through my photography or through the connections i’ve developed and fostered through the years. we chatted about the ideas presented in the book and he admitted that he really loved it. i spent the morning researching others to include in our private reading/bonding time and i’m excited to dive into those as well.
all in all–i want our educators to realize that social skills/character education is an important topic that just isn’t handled properly in school. so it’s up to us to talk about it and address the concept of being a friend and having friends at home with our kids. i see it as an ongoing conversation and ongoing work to help my son see the value in working on building friendships and social connections in life. i’m so glad we broke the ice and have begun the journey in dealing with these insecurities so that the pain can be dealt with constructively.
we are so glad we found this book and look forward to learning of more like it in the weeks to come. if you’ve got a story or a book to share–please do in the comments below.
i love you son. i will always go the extra mile to make sure you are seeing others and being seen in your life.