Cameron loves history. Abraham Lincoln is his hero. When he told me he thought he has Asperger’s (after hearing a general explanation of what it is), I asked what his special interest would be. “Abraham Lincoln!” he replied with certainty. But his love of history spans beyond Abe Lincoln. He also loves reading about World War II, the Civil War, J.F.K, and any other nonfiction he can get his hands on. This is a child who loves history so much that when presented with a Christmas gift of a choice between a trip to Springfield, Illinois to see where Lincoln lived, a train ride to Chicago with a visit to the Field Museum, or a trip to Six Flags, he chose Springfield.
Last year, Cameron needed a nonfiction book for school, so I searched on Goodreads to find that one of Temple Grandin’s books was a top choice for kids his age. I showed him a review from a mom who just happened to have a son with Asperger’s, to which Cameron said, “Oh! I almost have Asperger’s!” and asked me if I’d please buy it for him. I did. He added Temple Grandin to his obsessions by the end of the first day of reading the book.
Upon completing the book, he decided to write a letter to Temple Grandin. Here’s part of the letter:
If you can’t read it, this is what it said:
Dear Temple Grandin,
My name is Cameron. I am in 4th grade and I have ADHD (and other things like non-verbal learning disorder). You are my hero. I read about you and your squeeze machine. My school has one of the models. I am bummed that I did not get to see you in Madison, WI. In fact I almost cried. That is because if I could meet any one person who has lived or died it would be you. Even make believe characters. If you ever want to meet, call, or write me my address is—. If you want to call me my phone number is —. If you want to write to me it is —.
I hope I see you Dr. Hear you soon.
I sent the letter, and was very surprised that she wrote back to him. It was a short note saying that she’s happy she inspires him, but how incredible is it that she actually wrote back?! His reaction was less than if I told him that I made his favorite dinner… not what mine would have been if my hero wrote back to me, but I know he was inwardly excited, just unable to show it outwardly (which is a weird thing with him—he is sometimes CRAZY excited about things and other times looks bored out of his mind when something exciting happens).
That takes us back to Springfield, where we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Lincoln’s home, his tomb, etc. While at the museum, we saw a cool show with lights and fog and shaking seats. Cameron was underwhelmed and claimed that the fog made his throat hurt and made him feel weird. This put him in a really weird mood for the remainder of the museum. He could not get passed it, and it felt like we were dragging around a depressed noodle for the remainder of our time there.
As a parent, it makes me wonder if he is having fun, if he likes it, why he isn’t enjoying being the only kid with his parents right now, etc. But that’s the thing about a kid like him; you never know what you’re going to get. I’m certain he was having fun. I’m sure he loved the attention he was getting from us. But when something doesn’t meet, or is different than, his expectations (or in this case was a sensory trigger), his entire attitude can go from “this-is-the-best-day-ever” to “I-want-to-go-home-and-if-you-don’t-take-me-I’m-going-to-make-sure-you’re-miserable.”
When we ask Cameron his favorite part of the trip, he’ll say it was the tomb, the last place we went before heading home. The tomb was where he was walking ahead of us, barely talking, looking over-stimulated to the point where he just zoned out with no affect on his face. In fact, my memories of the tomb barely have him in them. His dad and I talked; he stayed restraining-order distance away from us. I would never have thought that was his favorite moment of the trip.
You never know. You never know what will set him off or whether or not he’s actually having fun. You never know if he’ll like grapes today, even if he liked them yesterday. Parenting Cameron is like an unpredictable roller coaster of incredible snuggles and highs and crazy self-defeating lows that make you feel like you are a complete parenting failure, perhaps even worse than Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June. The switch between these flips quickly and unexpectedly. The only thing we can do is expect that at any moment his mood could change drastically, so enjoy those highs when we have them. It takes a flexible parent to parent a rigidly unpredictable child, and honestly, sometimes I’m a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, and other times I’m as flexible as I actually am—I do yoga but can’t do a backbend.
So what can we do? We can give him space when he’s low, give him attention when he’s high, and love him and hug him during both highs and lows. We can also give ourselves a break—literally and figuratively—because being a contortionist is exhausting.