My autistic son turned 12 today. I need to catch up.

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[Was honored — despite my advancing age — to have this post repurposed on April 16, 2023, on trendy Instagram]

The great Mark Twain once said: Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”.

Well, the truth is when it comes to my son, I do mind. And it does matter.

Or rather I did mind, and I thought it mattered.

Today I’m trying to remind myself of this as my son turns 12. I also need to remind myself of a post I wrote three months before his 10th birthday. It was written to remind me that he’s anything but his chronological age. And that if I wish to stay connected with him, I best not forget that!

Unfortunately, I think I have forgotten!

Is he really 12?

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In that post I mentioned, I talked about how my anxiety grows with each new birthday we celebrate with C, my youngest of two sons. He had been diagnosed with moderate ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) back in 2017.

The anxiety stemmed from my struggle to deal with how his autism “kept” him from growing up “normally” like neurotypical kids his age. For kids like C don’t hit the usual developmental milestones at the usual age we all take for granted.

In many aspects of growth — physical, mental, psychological, social, emotional — the runway is just longer for them to “take off” and join the rest of society.

Speechwise for instance, C struggles with effective communication. His language command, prowess and ability to hold reciprocal conversations still seem more befitting a seven, eight-year-old than a 12-year-old. (Incidentally, C also looks physically more like a seven, eight-year-old!)

In terms of gaming, while other 12-year-olds are into online strategy games like Final Fantasy or Minecraft Dungeons, he’s playing straight up punch-and-leap games more along the lines of Gold Digger FRVR or Stickman Archero Fight.

His typical response now to challenges, difficulties or not getting what he wants are still very much of the kindy playground variety — whine, nag, sob, bawl, sprawl, scream or lash out and hit.

But isn’t age just “a number”?

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They say you’re only as old as you feel and that age is just a number.

But is it really?

Looking at how C behaves daily, I would hazard a guess that he feels pretty much like a kid half his (chronological) age.

But me? I feel every bit of my 50+ year old body. So imagine what it feels like to be in a body like mine while raising a kid who feels more kindergarten than junior high! And has been so for several years now. Many moments, it’s flat-out exhausting!

It’s as though time has stood still for him, but is Formula One racing down the track for me!

How long can I continue to be a “young” parent when I am now clearly living in the stage of life where I have more yesterdays than tomorrows? So don’t toss me that quote from Twain or the age-old adage “age is just a number”!

Yet as I watched C today joyfully receiving birthday presents that look more like gifts for a younger kid, I had to pause, take a deep breath, freeze that thought and resolutely release it.

In its place, I had to begin reciting to myself: “C is C and age — especially for him — is just a number. So relax, and let him be.”

And yes, I also had to restore and embrace those sage adages about age back into my psyche.

Love. Support. Encouragement.

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I also have to remind myself that what he needs isn’t to be disparaged for not “catching up”; instead he needs plenty of love, support and encouragement.

I have to remind myself that I left the relentless corporate working world in 2019 because its culture of frenzy, its frenetic pace and demand, and its insatiable, insane and punishing pursuit of constant success and glory at any costs is simply antithetical to what I need to establish by way of a safe atmosphere at home. One not based on merit and achievement as the world dictates.

It’s not what my son needs, if I wish to raise C well and to give him all the love and care he needs. Like how a plant needs good soil, and just the right amount of sunshine and water in order to grow and thrive.

But as I said at the beginning, I seem to have forgotten all of that.

On many days, I still get impatient with him, lose my temper easily, and — I’m ashamed to say this — often mock him for what he likes or says or plays; even saying, on my worst days, stuff like “C’mon son, grow up!”

I’m sorry C.

In many ways — especially emotionally — your daddy is himself still a kid when it comes to mature parenting.

I think it’s time for me to catch up to you and hopefully “turn 12” soon. And to realise that for your sake and mine, your age doesn’t matter.

Will you be patient and kind and wait for daddy to grow up to think like Mr Twain?

And just like we did today, will you be around then to wish me “Happy Birthday” too?

I hope you will son. I hope you will.

3 thoughts on “My autistic son turned 12 today. I need to catch up.

  1. This is so helpful whether are not we have a special needs child. May I learn from you to fully “be” wherever I am in life..

  2. ‘Honesty’ is a word I use a lot when I come here, and every post I come back to, you bare it all without hesitation. Sharing your experience in such a raw way will definitely benefit anyone who’s in the same boat as you, and you’d do a disservice if you were to ‘curate’ the stories to look more favourable. So thank you for always staying true, Kelvin!

    1. Awww…thanks Stu! Your kind words truly mean a lot to me. Apprec you alw dropping in and encouraging me so. Here’s to more honesty in the world online and off ya?

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