Fear, Fascination and Autism

There are many things that can make Eli, my 8-year-old son on the spectrum , happy and very few that terrify him. To neurotypical adults, it would seem silly to be scared by the sound of a hair or hand dryer, or a blender or coffee grinder or a drill, but these are sounds that have a different effect on my son and other autistic kids like him. Thankfully, the noise from crowds don’t bother him anymore, and the hair dryer we have at home does not bother him as much as it did before. If we use the coffee grinder, he would just leave the kitchen.

Still there’s so much I envy my son for — one of which is his lack of fear of things that terrify most people I know, from tiny creatures like cockroaches or spiders to pythons. When we went to a zoo in Bohol last week,our guide showed us this yellow python. Thinking my husband was holding Eli’s hand, I couldn’t help screaming when I saw him already inside the cage with the guide. He was the only one inside the cage with the guide who showed him how to pet this beautifully yellow python. None of us adult tourists dared to go in, but Eli did and seemed to really enjoy touching the snake.

Eli also loves the ocean. Unfortunately he doesn’t know how to swim yet. Just like me and my husband, Eli can sit (or stand) on the beach for a long time just looking at the waves or the horizon. The ocean is mesmerizing. He is most calm when he is on the beach. On our last evening in Bohol, he and his father watched the sunset until it got too dark to see anything on the ocean, but I guess he was listening to the sound of the waves, and that too is mesmerizing.

But Eli has no sense of the danger of the ocean especially for people who cannot swim. And if no one is watching him, he will just keep walking towards the water. From what I’ve read, most autistic kids and adults are drawn to water, and in fact when an autistic person goes missing, the first area rescuers would search is a body of water.

The “fearlessness” of our autistic kids may be admirable sometimes, but we also have to remember that fear is one way we, humans, protect ourselves from danger, and if our “fearless” kids are not aware of the dangers that their fascination with certain things poses, it will not be good for them.

Have a lovely and safe Sunday! 💕

T.

Noli Timere

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A few weeks ago, I read an article by a writer reminiscing about his friendship with the late Seamus Heaney, and of course his famous last words, a text message to his wife — Noli timere (“Don’t be afraid”).  Unfortunately I can’t find that article anymore as I don’t remember the title nor the author’s name, so I can’t give you the link.

That article led me to read about Heaney’s last words as recalled by his son in his eulogy. And this in turn led me to remember what my mother said to me a week before she passed as I cried in front of her, exhausted from all the seemingly insurmountable problems that had befallen me — her worsening health condition, my son’s autism, not being able to get a visa for my son, among other things. She reached for my hand, as she lay in bed, and said to me in a voice full of confidence, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. E. is going to be fine.”

I wonder if it is just the dying’s way of comforting the living, so as not to make them worry about what life would be like for the living without them, or if somehow they have some kind of vision of what the future will be like, or if their faith is strengthened as they near that end.

But my mother’s words really comforted me, and I believed her. And I believed her words even more as indeed, after she passed, we were able to find a special needs school for my son, and the same embassy that made it difficult for us to get a visa for him, gave him a travel document instead.

Even now whenever I have a problem, apart from praying, I would think of my mother and how she would have stormed the gates of heaven to pray for me.

As a mother myself, I keep praying for my son. Some nights I lie awake wondering, fearing, what the future would be like for my son. I read articles like this one about a parent describing what life is like for someone with a 13-year old son with ASD , and I fear dying before my son can learn to live independently.

For now I can protect my son and comfort him when he is hurt or scared, but no parent can or should do this for the rest of our lives. Our children grow, and we pass on. But hopefully, our comforting words will live in their hearts and give them courage to live their lives.

************

BE NOT AFRAID
(For E.)

The sky may darken
And let fall the rain
That doesn’t seem to end

The winds may howl
Like a crazed person
Banging on the window

The lightning may strike
And give you a glimpse
Of the dark clouds outside

The thunder may roar
And cow you into hiding
Under your soft blanket

But don’t be afraid,
Mommy’s here to keep you safe
And warm as you sleep and dream
Of a beautiful sunrise when you wake.

 

Mindanao

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I have to admit I am a little scared to go home to Mindanao this time. I actually cried as I was packing this morning. Living for so many years in China where the only explosions I hear are from firecrackers or fireworks, I have become too comfortable and a little cowardly. In 2001, when the government declared an all-out war with the rebels, I dared to go to Marawi to accompany my journalist friend who was going to interview a religious leader there. On our way to Marawi, we could see and hear helicopters strafing certain areas. I was scared, but also thought of it as an adventure, something I could boast about later on.

Then I left for China. Seven years later when I went home in the summer for a visit, rebels threatened to attack my city. It was the first time I felt real FEAR. Seeing my sister deathly pale and cold, watching my mother pray the rosary as we all huddled in the bedroom, I nearly went crazy with fear.

Now, I am going home again to a conflict-ridden Mindanao. I envy my fellow Mindanaoans , who do not  allow their fear to defeat them, who continue to believe that this too shall pass. I have lost my Mindanaoan courage and optimism, but I hope to get them back when I arrive home. Soon.

Peace.

 

T.