When parenting a boy with disability, one constant concern is this: will he clear age-appropriate milestones in time?
I’m no different.
With my autistic son, it’s always at the back of my mind, this fear he won’t mature in time to enjoy what his neuro-typical peers take for granted.
These could be things like confidently climbing a playground feature with precarious steps, or tightropes that form a web-like maze. Meaning his gross motor skills are strengthening effortlessly.
Or writing legibly on the line in his jotter book when completing a school assignment, like his weekly English journals. Meaning his fine motor skills are on point.
Or he’s no longer anxious about, oh say getting a Covid-19 vaccination jab on his sensitive skin.
Wait a minute! He wasn’t?
Hear no evil
The thing with C is that one of his autism comorbidity traits is his heightened sensitivity to pain and potential discomfort.
Many were the times he displayed high levels of anxiety when he foresees or is told something’s about to happen that could involve some unpleasantness for his extra sensitive faculties. Like his hearing or his sense of touch.
So if we’re going to, say, a birthday party or to family-friendly restaurants like Swensen’s for a meal, my wife and I often have to brace ourselves. All because C could well be within striking distance of balloons. Why? Because balloons as we know can burst, making a sudden, loud pop sound.
Which C absolutely hates!
All it took was that one time, when he was much younger, being near a balloon that popped right beside him. He spent the next hour or two with hands firmly clasped over his tiny ears; long after we’d left the scene.
So with a child whose hearing is particularly sensitive, it’s a nightmare just waiting to happen when you’re at birthday parties and family-friendly restaurants. Which of course are rarely short of the ubiquitous balloon!
I have lost count the number of times I’ve given up in exasperation when we’ve long left the scene of the crime so to speak. Yet C continues to cover his ears as though another balloon was about to appear miraculously before him, sadistically grinning (like all phantom balloons), and threatening to explode before his very eyes and ears!
And please don’t even get me started on thunderstorms or hammering and drilling taking place as a neighbour renovates!
If only that was all that mortified him.
Feel no evil
Since our government announced last month that those 5 – 11 years of age can receive Covid-19 vaccinations, my wife and I have been naturally anxious for C.
It wasn’t just the usual parental anxiety over possible after-jab effects for any child vaccinations.
Knowing C, who doesn’t even like to be hugged much — he always lets me hug him only after turning his back to me — we knew vaccination would be one of those milestones that would pose a huge challenge to his ultra-sensitive sense of touch.
In early 2021 when people started receiving Covid-19 vaccinations, he would often ask if he had to as well. In particular, he would always ask: “Daddy, is it pain(ful)?” That question would be immediately followed by clear undeniable pronouncements by our royal anxiousness that he doesn’t want it because it sounded awfully painful.
Injections being a norm here for every kiddy under two years of age, no doubt painful memories lingered for him.
In any case, to be skittish at the sight of long, sharp objects that come at you like a rocket missile, is already an understandable reaction among adults. So why should it be any different for a kid, let alone one with autism comorbidities like C?
No surprise that this was one of those milestones I suspect would take a while to surmount.
Until, quietly, surreptitiously, it was surmounted.
Or rather C surmounted!
Where is “Our Royal Anxiousness”?
When 2022 began a few weeks ago, we received a school notification letter. It was from C’s teacher, telling us mobile clinics would soon be conveniently set up within the school premises to administer Covid-19 jabs to all students.
This was a unique move made jointly by the Ministries of Health and Education for students in special needs schools here. A relief to parents like me, as it meant C would at least get vaccinated among fellow classmates in a familiar environment, rather than a crowded community centre packed with strangers.
Still, with his history of anxiety and skittishness, we knew the potential for fear would loom large.
So we took extra care to prep our little man in the weeks leading up to his rostered turn for the shot.
We fully expected resistance that used to take place very often before. We fully expected him to have nightmares. To repeatedly request he be spared the trauma. To whine and protest daily.
In fact, he barely seemed bothered at all!
Even on the actual vaccination day, yesterday.
As I had to work, C’s mom took C back to school yesterday for the appointment (he had been on HBL since Thursday).
I reminded her to please keep me posted as I was a little anxious about whether C was going to have an anxiety attack. I also reminded her to take a picture for me when they poke the needle, since I couldn’t be with him.
She did. Except it was a shot of him post-vaccination, not before or during the injection! And he looked as cool as a cucumber (see earlier picture above)!
C’s mom then texted me to say the whole procedure went like clock-work, and ended off with this gem: “He was so good. Sit down, jab and go!”
That’s it? No preambles, reddening of the eye, clinging to attending parent’s arm for dear life? No fanfare, ribbon-cutting ceremony or fireworks? A milestone crossed like it was just another ho-hum of a day? Where are the histrionics? The panic buttons? The cry for help?
Just another ordinary event. One that slips by surreptitiously. One milestone mysteriously surmounted.
Sigh…such is the miracle that happens when a parent least expects it!
So I guess my only appropriate response?