Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Screaming Mornings: Living with Autism

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This is a snapshot of a typical morning with my son at age seven, before he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Without a diagnosis, I had no idea why we were going through what we were.

This morning I woke up to your screams. Most mornings, I wake up to your screams. Today it was because you had accidentally hit the channel scan, and you had to wait about 45 seconds to see Poke'mon. Actually, now that I think about it, you started before that -- immediately upon opening your eyes. I was in Jamie's room, so I heard you very clearly, asking Daddy, "What time is it? OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHH, Ten to seven?!??"

That was how our day started.

I laid in bed, listening to you, to see if you'd get better. You didn't, and when I heard your rudeness and noise level get to where Daddy was going to start yelling, I hurried downstairs.

I brought your clothes with me, and reminded you it was a special day -- no uniforms at school. You didn't thank me, and I didn't ask you to. You dressed in the living room while I made your lunch and collected your homework, backpack, socks, and gym clothes. You sat and watched T.V. while I cooked your breakfast and searched for the letter I'd had you write your teacher -- an apology for yesterday's behavior.

I asked you, and told you, at least three times, to put your sweater on over the thin turtleneck you are wearing. The sweater was still over the arm of the couch.

At the end of Poke'mon, your sole focus this morning, you went upstairs. Your breakfast was still on the table. I called you to come and eat. You came downstairs and informed me, imperiously, that you needed to know what time it was. I told you you had at least ten minutes before your ride got here. You spent the next several minutes screaming about what time it really was, and running -- really, running -- around the living room. You waved your arms while you screamed. I told you I would find your shoes while you ate. This is when the truly paroxysmal screaming began. (For today.)

"NO, OH, OH, OH, WHY, WHY, OH, OH, OH, WHY, OH, I CAAAAAAAAAAAAN'T DON'T YOU KNOW WHAT TIME, OH OH OH OH OH."

Then I demanded that you eat. I told your father to put your shoes on you while you ate. He did, but you only screamed and flailed your arms. I forced two bites of egg into your mouth, at least half of which you spit out.

The other bite or so is all that's in your stomach. I made you an egg so that the protein might give you more stabilized blood sugar, which might make you able to behave at school.

I wake up every morning with a new resolve to maintain calm. Today, I managed this until the VCR clock said 7:36 a.m. I responded to everything you said calmly and kindly and firmly. You spoke below a disgusted shout or command only twice: when you asked me, "How much is 365 times 4?" and when you asked me if you could have the egg I was cooking. I waited, that time, for you to say thank you. You didn't.

In the last five minutes we spent together this morning, I only screamed once. I said something, screamed one word, "Sit DOWN," or maybe "No, you're NOT going to be late," or maybe, "Yes you DO have time to eat." I can't remember. Just one screamed word, and it caught my attention: ooh, I'm losing it, stop, maintain composure. But of course by that time Daddy was late for work because he was trying to help with the shoes, and you were panicking about the time, and there was too much screaming and flailing and tension, it was like a tornado of sound and motion and emotion in the little triangle of us.

No one could have eaten in that situation. Not that you had any inclination.

I dragged you into the living room, shouted at you to put your coat on, thrust your backpack at you, and told you to get out. I'd never said "get out" before. I've said other things, not good things, but honest enough that I hope you will remember them well, someday, and see that I tried. While I looked for your shoes today, while I was on my knees in the closet and you hopped and screamed beside me, not looking for your own shoes and not using the time you spent not looking for eating, but just wiling away the morning with screaming, I said to your father, "Carry him into the kitchen so I don't hurt him."

I did not yell this, and I did not want to hurt you. But neither the words nor the strained angry tone could be heartwarming to you. Someday, I hope, you will remember only the words, and that I was trying to protect you.

After your ride picked you up from your frantic wait on the porch, I screamed and screamed. I screamed and threw things, probably before you were fully buckled into Paula's car. I threw my glasses across the living room. I'm glad they didn't break, so glad I'll have nothing to possibly blame on you tomorrow morning, when the screaming starts again. I screamed at your father for not understanding you, or me, or anything, I screamed unwords into the couch, I screamed until my throat hurt and I pulled muscles in my legs.

I told your father, "I hate him, I hate him, I hate him," and for moments I did, for moments I do. I hate you for refusing to appreciate that I love you. I hate you for refusing to be lovable. I hate you for making me think I could ever hate you. I hate you because you make me hate myself. Because of course I don't hate you, of course, not even for a moment. I only hate that I cannot make you see that I don't hate you. I hate that I cannot see that you don't hate me.

In the years since my son's diagnosis, I have learned that his behavior is not unusual or even extreme for children with this disorder. Nor is it unusual for children with milder forms of autism to go undiagnosed for years. With an accurate diagnosis, however, and adequate treatment, my son and my family are developing well.


Leslie Bonner is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania with her two sons. Since the morning detailed in this piece, Leslie’s older son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism, and is responding beautifully to the treatment and attentions of many dedicated professionals. Leslie is currently at work on a project detailing her family’s life in the autism spectrum.


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