When I began Asperkids.com in 2012, I pledged to answer every single email, every single question via social media, every personal request. And dang it, I meant it. Heck, as a mom myself, if I took the time to reach out, it was because I needed something I couldn’t find for myself – information, instructions, yes….but more than that: hope. Connection. Understanding.
Never did I dream that what we have built together would become – never mind so quickly – an international juggernaut reaching more than 1/4 million people a month…REAL people with REAL dinner witching hours and REAL marriages and REAL kids whose hearts, spirits, and, in many cases, lives have hung in the balance.
But I’m still at it. Answering emails and posts and questions at all hours of the day – I love hearing your voices. And I know it matters to you that you are hearing from me – a friend who gets what it is to BE an Aspie, be MARRIED to an Aspie, parent THREE Asperkids, TEACH Asperkids, AND try somehow to find time to do laundry and clean the toilets (I am, I’ll admit, woefully behind on those last two). I can’t get to every single one like I used to….but I sure do try.
Now. Let me stop here for a second: I am NOT doing you a favor by responding personally to anyone. I am blessed that you care to ask – that you buy my books – that you help me to make a career out of helping families….
I am not the gift. I am “gifted” by you and your trust.
That’s why, a year ago, when Liz wrote to me via Facebook, I didn’t think twice about replying right away. Why? Because I recognized INSTANTLY the pain she felt in her son’s sorrow. There is no more helpless feeling than watching your child – at any age – suffer. But at least as important as understanding Liz, I have stood in her son’s place, too. Liz wrote:
Hiya, this is going to be a bit of an essay but please bear with me… I’m the proud mum of 2 boys – an 8 year old amazing but very troubled Asperkid (Ollie) and 4 year old Ben who may well also be Aspie. Ollie today gave me a very sobering reminder of how tough he finds things. My hubbie was home in time to come with me today at school pick-up time and whilst both the boys were pleased to see him, Ollie became very agitated when they started to chat. He suddenly begged his dad not to talk with him like they do at home as “I can’t be me here, I have to be different.”
Whilst I already knew that Ollie found school tough socially & emotionally, it was so hard to see that at the grand old age at 8 he had come to the conclusion that being himself was unacceptable, and that his only hope of fitting in was to try to act all day long.
I recently bought your first 2 books and am currently reading ‘Asperkids‘, having put ‘Social Rules‘ to one side for when Ollie (or indeed Ollie & Ben) get a little older, but after today I showed it to Ollie, saying it was there for him when he wanted it.
He wanted a quick look so opened it up right on page 59, where we were faced with the quote “You are the only you there has ever been, or is, or will be. Be the you-iest you can be”… We’ve now both decided that your books are special!!! I can’t tell you the look of amazement on his (and my!) face, to be greeted with such a relevant quote on our first look in the book. I left him happily reading the introduction, a much more content boy than he was earlier….
What a gift to know that right away, she and her son were connecting to what I’d shared — as I wrote back:
Liz – that is perhaps one of the most beautiful letters I have ever received. Whomever thinks I’m the one doing good has got it backwards….Thank you SO much for taking the time to write. And tell Ollie I am so very proud to be on his team.
Our correspondence continued when Ollie, himself, wrote several notes to me – though on a different continent, and though things weren’t perfect, Ollie felt connected to someone. Not so terribly alone.
But no journey is a straight line. And as it will, life got rough again…..heartbroken, Liz wrote:
It’s all gone wrong again….He hates being him, he hates being Aspie, he rejects any support that anyone tries to put in place for him….I can’t change his fundamental being (and wouldn’t want to, although this is breaking my heart)….I know I’m meant to be positive about him, focus on the positives, help him focus on all that is good, etc etc etc, but today I’ve failed. I try and I try and I try and I try and today I’m just crying….Oh Jennifer I’m so sorry, ranting on like this I just get so scared for that boy…..But he still wears your t-shirt – it’s his favourite and is absolutely proud of it… I just don’t get him – he’ll wear that with such pride but then reject everything that reveals him as being different… Such a complex boy – which is what makes him so amazing but so hard to reach and help…..Such love is winging its way through cyber space to you, for all that you are and all that you do…..
That’s about as close to superhero as I get. Friends, I understand your kids. And I understand YOU. In between some specifics I advised for Ollie, here’s what I wanted Liz to remember for HERSELF (and YOU, TOO!):
I promise that you have NOT failed. NONE of us (and that completely includes me) perfectly execute every decision as we’d like in every moment. Remember – in the Rule Book, it says that trying to be perfect is a guarantee of failure. It’s a goal that you can be sure you will never achieve….
You have to give yourself permission to get confused and sad and anything else. That doesn’t mean you love your boys any less AT ALL. Actually, if you didn’t care so much, you wouldn’t have been upset in the first place!
You’re doing wonderfully….and I happen to think the boys both know it. It’s a bad day. But not a bad life. And you’re a beautiful part of it.
Liz continued reading the books. So did Ollie.
Liz continued to ask for help when she needed it – and Ollie began to follow suit.
And sure enough, as I promised they would with the specific supports we discussed, the loving tenacity of an imperfect mom, and the insistent positivity of the Asperkids community, things began to turn around.
For Christmas, Liz ordered the “Congratulations! You’re an Asperkid!” Kit and Bucket Full o’ Awesome. As soon as they arrived arrived,she sent in Ollie’s “AK Shirt” picture, which we post on our Facebook page — and within minutes, love from ALL AROUND THE WORLD began to pour in. Hundreds of well-wishers showed Ollie the real truth – he’s not just connected to me. Through Asperkids, he’s found the place where he belongs.
Of his Kit and Shirt Day, Ollie cheered:
“The whole world knows about me! This is the best day of my whole life!”
Loneliness. Guilt. Fear. They are the dastardly, serpentine enemies that undermine our children – our families – ourselves. Instead of being free of anxiety, we are bound by it. Instead of knowing the rich, celebratory love we each deserve, we are willing to accept crumbs. Liz and her family had been through each one of those points. I have, too. And I’d guess you have your own stories.
And so I come to the “now” of Ollie’s story. The best part.
A year ago, he hated himself. Less than a year ago, his mother was terrified of what he might do out of desperation and pain. Yet bit-by-bit, we’ve chipped away together…a community insistent upon dignity and kindness and safety.
Last week, Liz wrote that her son – who only a year ago hated himself - has volunteered to give a presentation about Asperger’s to his entire school for World Autism Day (also his birthday)!!!!!
But Ollie was having second thoughts….well, maybe third and fourth. And so he wrote to me himself:
Not only is it the first time I’m going to school on my birthday but I’m also doing the assembly of a slide show to the whole school about autism day and I’ve just deleted the whole lot!! And I’ve been crying loads and loads and loads about it. So I’m using the tools I’ve learned. I’m used the emotions putty, breathe pebble, oil thing where the oil falls down [from the Bucket Full O' Awesome sensory buffet...it's helping a lot] but I need one more thing: I need you comforting me by speaking to me. Please do this as soon as you can. Thank you. Oliver
This, my friends, is why I do what I do. Because of the kids….so here was my reply….
I am SO PROUD OF YOU for using your “battle strategies against anxiety” in the Bucket – YOU ARE AMAZING.
Question: instead of just encouraging you, how about we do a talk TOGETHER? What do you think?!
He thought: YES!!!!! After hours of crying, Ollie finally fell asleep with a smile on his face, mum said. The reason is simple, really. He just needed to know he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t. He won’t be. And neither will you.
On Tuesday, Ollie will give his talk – and after watching the video I recorded for him to share, mum AND dad reported an “I am so loved” glow all over their boy.
Graciously, his family have given us permission to share it with you here and to allow your Asperkids (even if they’re not named Ollie) to share it with their classes – because the truth is, as you’ll see…this is the story of heroes…of real bravery…of love that is much, much bigger than awareness or one day or one child. It is the story of ALL of us – DIFFERENT TOGETHER.
P.S. April 10, 2014: Want to know how it went? Here’s what Donna, a mom from the same school, wrote: “Brilliant. Children saying that they felt understood for the first time at school, now you’re talking!”