Brothers and Fathers and Sons

What’s funny to me about my father’s rose colored views of my ugly awkward teenage years is that he seems to be like that about everything. I love him, but it’s clear to me that he lives in a world where everything is supposed to be a certain way. And when it’s not, the first instinct is to deny, deny, deny until perhaps you believe the thing that you don’t want to be simply isn’t.

He did this when my youngest (I know I’m jumping on the timeline here, but bear with me) was first diagnosed with autism. He kept telling me how he didn’t really see it, how he didn’t think that my youngest had a lot of autistic behaviors. That likely was easy for him to believe since he lives in Florida and at the time we were living in Ohio. The lack of speech, the constant meltdowns, the odd ways of playing with toys, the obsessive behaviors, the sensory issues…these were all things that could be explained away or skillfully ignored so that my father could believe that one of his grandchildren wasn’t seriously “flawed”.

It worked well for him until he visited us one summer after M had turned three, and we went to Ikea to shop. We’d eaten there, (a meal in which M consumed only french fries because he would eat nothing else on the menu), we’d shopped, we had bought some things. My father realized after we’d loaded the car and the kids in the carseats that he needed one more item. So instead of pulling out onto the highway, we pulled back into the parking lot and went to get the kids out of the car.

Well, in true autistic fashion when you break with the expected next step, M went into full on meltdown mode, where he had to be carried kicking and screaming back into the store. My father stared in disbelief, horror and probably disgust as I struggled to handle his agitated weight. When he laid flat down on the carpet of the foyer of the store, my father had had enough and grabbed M and smacked him on the bottom. I suppose he thought if I’d just discipline my child properly, he’d behave in the manner in which he was supposed to.

Of course it didn’t and actually my father’s actions made the meltdown worse, so I instructed him to leave me while he went to do the rest of his business and that I’d meet him when he was done. I also of course gave him a sharp word about hitting my kid. And then I went into the soothing routine that every mother of an autistic child knows well; applying deep pressure through a full on arms and leg wrap around hug that has the extra added side benefit of keeping a child from moving while freaking out. I talked in the most soothing tones I could muster while he screamed in my ear, and eventually got him to the family bathroom where it was quiet and there was solitude to help pull him out of his bad place.

I tell this story today because after several years of M’s therapies and interventions preventing such situations, and people telling me ad nauseum either how far he’s come or that they don’t believe he ever really was “that bad”, M had another meltdown. This one was precipitated by an eye exam in which eye drops were used to dilate M’s eyes. I thought I’d never, ever see the day when I had to straddle my child while others held him down again, but I was wrong. The hour that followed was possibly the worst hour of the last five years.

I wonder, sometimes, when my parents were confronted with my brother’s obvious issues, if the rose colored glasses prevented the things he needed from taking place. I think for years his issues were largely ignored while they silently grew to a level where they could no longer be ignored. I don’t often think of what M might be like if I hadn’t spent the last eight years embracing his disorder in an effort to find the best ways to help him grow around it, but days like today put it all back into sharp focus.


One Response

  1. Thank you for writing this post. My dad too refused to believe that his children were less than perfect. I only got needed glasses for near sightedness after one of my 10th grade teachers wrote a note to my parents insisting that they take me for an eye exam. Even after I got glasses, he kept insisting they were just reading glasses when I needed them to see things in the distance.

    I think a lot of doctors have this same affliction. Many can’t face not believing that they aren’t competent diagnosticians, even if it is at the patient’s expense. I think this is a human trait many adopt because it is more convenient for them to do so. Not being properly diagnosed for years and years left me disabled at age 50. I can guarantee you that none of the dozens of doctors I saw seeking a diagnosis gives a hoot about what happened to me because in their minds it couldn’t possibly be related to anything they did or didn’t do.

    It’s not right. It just is. And our society allows such thinking to proliferate unchecked.

    For more on my experiences with doctors see

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