Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism: Our Parenting Strategy was Love

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"Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism" excerpt by Janele Hoerner (CatholicMom.com)

Chapter 4: Our Parenting Strategy was Love

With each day that passed, I was beginning to realize the actual depth of the decision I had chosen for not only me but also for this small child. The tan mark from my engagement ring was almost gone as Christmas approached and Gracin’s “father” was proving to fall into a slowly dissipating pattern. My heartstrings ached for my infant son. Initially, when Gracin was born, he came to see him three times a week for a few hours. However, by the third month, he showed his face barely once a week. He had a new girlfriend, and this baby was clearly not the most important person in his life. As time pushed on, he faded more and more and eventually stopped seeing us altogether for reasons I may never fully understand.

I, on the other hand, had been given one of the best gifts I could have ever imagined. I was certainly not going to let this guy beat me down any longer though I still was leery of trusting anyone again. Yet, a new man had been placed in my life before Gracin’s birth, and the harder I tried to just be friends with him, the more I saw he was so much more than a friend. He had literally stepped up to become a daddy overnight and took on that task with open arms. He was everything that I had always wanted but never felt I would find. He was always with us when he was not working. He was the best friend that I never had. His promises proved true, and I began to see that he was what I needed in all aspects.

I fought an internal battle acknowledging that I could not be a parent alone, wanting to trust again, but being scared because I was choosing for both my son and myself. I did not want my future children to have different fathers. I didn’t want a broken family. Trying to let go of my faults and not focus on the past, I resolved to make sure the next time I trusted, it would be forever. I wanted not only a father for my son but also a real daddy who adored and wanted the best for my child. I wondered if this guy was going to get sick of us too. Letting go of my fears, I trusted in him. When Gracin was 6 months old, this incredible man knelt down to ask me the question that solidified all of the thoughts of my mind.

I deeply believed that although my future husband had no ties to Gracin’s blood, he thought of him as a son. That was exactly what we needed in order to start our lives as a true family. Two months later Gracin said “Dada” for the first time. At that point, there was no reluctance in my mind. From the heart of a little child who had heard his voice from inside the womb on a consistent basis, with no prompting on my part, who was I to argue with what name Gracin provided him? I knew in my heart that my husband-to-be was sent by God in my darkest moments to save not only my life but my little son’s life as well. The point to all of this is that we never referred to him as my son or your son; he was our son, and we raised him together. Not many people even knew that Gracin was not from this man’s bloodline because to us, it did not need to be announced. This was our child, and that was how we were going to live.

Our parenting strategy did have to change over time as we realized that our son was not developing typically. It never occurred to us at first because there was no diagnosis presented at birth for his condition. It was an evolving revelation over time that we had to accept and help our families accept also. The existence of this child was enough to fight for, and fight is what we did.

As any parent knows, the first few weeks of raising a child can be downright tiring. Time blends together, and sleep eludes the best of parents. Everyone reassured me that with time my little boy would sleep longer and deeper, but it just never happened. At six weeks of age, he was only sleeping for a twenty-minute nap three times a day. My wonderful and devoted Daddy-in-the-making walked him back and forth for at least an hour every night so Gracin could fall asleep. After he left for the night, Gracin would wake up every single hour, on the hour, to eat. I felt as though as soon as I was done feeding, I was waking up to feed again.

Nights were miserable to say the least. Gracin was having trouble digesting breast milk, which was supposed to be the most easily digested substance for a baby. We were constantly rubbing his tiny tummy, moving his little legs, and feeding him gas drops to ease his discomfort. He hated being put down and would cry, sucking in more air leading to almost constant hiccups, which led to more air being trapped in his belly. I felt he was just colicky, and, being a new mom, I really did not think anything of his seemingly extra needs. I knew he was not an easy baby, but since he was content with being held, nothing more crossed my mind.

As life continued, one thing resonated in my mind and deeply troubled me. Gracin was almost four months old, and he never smiled. He always seemed to have a curious look to his facial features but never a smile. I used to refer to him as my little grumpy old man, but I craved to see that smile. Gracin would, in fact, smile in his sleep (so I knew he was capable), but why not while he was awake?

That glorious moment finally arrived at 4 months and 3 weeks of age. I was ecstatic. Well, as life goes, with one problem out of the way, another one was on the horizon, and this one was not as easy as a smile. Feeling overwhelmed by his twenty-minute cat naps, now only twice a day, and feeding every hour throughout the night, I did not know what to do. I wanted to be able to place him in his bed for at least an hour to sleep, and I did not feel that was unreasonable given his age.

Each day he slept less and less. I could not place him down in a bed, swing, or anything without waking him. Many people told me being held so much was spoiling him, but I tried not to pay attention to the advice of others. He continued to be a very light sleeper, and no one could be quiet enough during his brief naps. We bought various noise machines and mobiles, but the slightest change in the music would wake him. I tried everything to extend his sleep. Nothing worked. I even broke down and bought my first parenting book to help babies sleep without tears. After trying everything in this five-star reviewed book with little to no success, I gave up for a time on parenting books. I was too tired to read anyway.

I wanted to spend any free time I had with my son now that I was back in school, so I relied on my own senses to figure out what I felt was right for my child. I managed pretty well to retain my perfect grade point average, even in my sleep-deprived state. In my mind, being a nurse was the only way to support us. I had no intention of fully relying on anyone to take care of us again.

I tried my best to relax and play with my little child, but his attention span was fleeting. He had no interest in toys that did not make noise as they only seemed to bore him. He was in love with things he could turn on and off or watch spin; although, even those would not keep his interest for long. While he was switching things on and off, he seemed happy, even though after a while, his eyes would get very big and glazed over. It was as if he was over stimulating himself by all of the noise and movement. He then would scream an ear-piercing scream until my eardrums felt as if they were going to burst. I did not know what was going on with my little child. The pictures of Gracin at those stages actually show a very confused little boy. At the time, I just thought he wanted more attention. It was almost as if he was begging for someone to calm him down.

Eventually I seemed to get immune to the loss of sleep, and life proceeded. Gracin hit every milestone on time, if not early, and often surprised us with his knowledge. He was such a very busy child. Not a toy in the world would hold his attention for more than thirty seconds. As early as nine months, we were convinced he knew his basic colors because every time we asked him to crawl to a specific colored block, he would. He held it above his head with a smile as if to say, “Look what I did.” Hundreds of times, throughout his ninth month, he repeated this and was never wrong, not even one time. We did not think much of it, other than it being a cute attribute. He was already saying “Dada” and “Mama” at this time. Surprisingly, at only ten months the words evolved into two and three word sentences like, “Mom ball get,” “Dada up now,” and “I love you.” The words were stated clear as clear could be and just rambled out of his mouth. He loved talking and had no intention of stopping. Impressed with his abilities at less than a year of age, we made sure to write down his achievements so not to forget, but really we were just thankful the ear-piercing screaming had stopped.

The facts as they were, I was already exhausted by the time his eyes opened in the morning. Being so busy in my own life with school, planning a wedding, and buying our first house, I just pushed forward. Our ultimate goal was not for raising the smartest kid on the block, it was simply for raising this child to one day enter into a heavenly paradise. Even though we desired to have a well behaved child, as anyone else does, we did not want to break his will by forcing him to fit into a set of rigid standards for his development.

I did in fact become, for the first time in my life, very envious of others. Mothers with babies around Gracin’s age would talk with such love and admiration as their children sat by their feet playing with the same pair of keys for what felt like an eternity. I, on the other hand, could not even fully sit on a chair before chasing after my little one, who laughed at any instruction I gave him. I would hear of babies sleeping through the night as I attempted to smile hoping to God they did not ask what my nights were like. I was embarrassed, exhausted, and overwhelmed as to what I was doing wrong. I kept telling myself that all I needed to do was love my son for who he was, and it would all come together as he aged. Although, as he got older, it became so much harder to simply love.

Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism is available at Amazon.com.

Read more chapters from Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism.


Copyright 2018 Janele Hoerner

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About Author

Janele Hoerner is the author of Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism: An Interior Analysis of the Impact a Special Needs Child Bestows upon the Family. She wishes to help all individuals to become selfless by the presence of special needs individuals in the community. She lives with her husband and their five children, two of which are on the Autism Spectrum, in central Pennsylvania. Visit Janele's blog at Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism.

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