And then with his right hand, he closed his fist as it landed swift into my cheekbone.
My eyes started to water as I gritted my teeth through the pain.
I was in disbelief.
How could a person who loved me do this?
As I steadied my feet and tried get my balance back, he then came at me again..this time with a hard kick into the stomach.
He proceeded to kick me repeatedly in the head, one foot rapidly after another, alternating every few seconds.
I begged him to stop.
But he wouldn’t let up.
This was no accident.
I was completely shocked at how this time there seemed to be intent. He seemed to know what he was doing.
As I fell to the ground, now whimpering, I thought my reaction would slow him..that the scared look on my face would finally stop him in his tracks.
I could see it in his face..he had that tell that he always does….the one where he places his teeth over his lips..I knew it was coming.
I tried to shield myself with my hands and then a pillow, my head was already throbbing, my ears ringing from the repetitive blows.
I took a brief second to peek out at him..reading the anger on his face..realizing that the only way to make it stop was to escape.
As I tried to crawl away, he unexpectedly grabbed a handful of my hair, relaying to me that he apparently wasn’t done showing me how displeased he was. As I tried to break free..I thought what did I do to trigger him?
How is this my fault?
Did I provoke him?
What did I say?
That’s all I said.
As I managed to get my hair untangled from his grasp, he hit me in the head and face forcefully, again with a closed fist.
I jumped up and ran, closing the door behind me. I waited, hoping he would calm down.
I slid against the door, onto the floor..and burst into tears, putting my face in my hands.
A few minutes later I heard the doorknob rattle. It was him.
Do I open the door?
Is he back to finish what he started?
Is he done?
I release the door knob.
He enters the room, looking down at me, still on the floor he says, “What’s wrong?”
Is he serious? I think to myself.
I say, “you hurt me.”
And without a pause, he responds with, “I’m sorry. I love you. Mommy”
See..this isn’t a story about my experience with domestic violence, although unfortunately, I have that too.
This happened yesterday and the person who inflicted this kind of pain on me was my son.
He is only six years old. But don’t let that fool you.
You’d be surprised what a child is capable of if they don’t realize their own strength or if they lose complete control of their body…when they struggle to communicate, or their body isn’t regulated, when it goes into sensory overload.
Why would my child hurt me?
I can give you the clear cut, easy answer. The “medical” one…that his developmental pediatrician gave me. The one that when I heard the severe autism diagnosis at two and a half, I couldn’t see the future..I never pictured my sweet boy being the cause of such things.
I can try to break it into categories..
ADHD, Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder?
Or I could guess…
A bad reaction to the Melatonin I gave him two nights ago to help him fall asleep? The late effects of a full moon? Was is literally the word no? Is it too light or dark out?
Is there a noise bothering him? Does the sound of my voice annoy him? Maybe he’s sick? In pain? Perhaps it’s the show Lilliana is watching in the background. Is the volume too high? Does he want to watch something else?
Is he processing an interaction with his brother, Landon from an hour ago?
Is he seeking sensory input, trying to get attention or acting out a you tube clip he watched?
He could be just tired..really tired..he never sleeps.
He seems way more agitated lately.
I could go on and on. I won’t get an answer. That’s the only sure thing about it.
He can’t tell me.
He won’t tell me?
Maybe he doesn’t know why.
Why should he?
He’s the child.
I’m the adult.
I’m his mother.
I’m supposed to have all the answers. Right? But I don’t.
And let me tell you, after being a part of this Autism community, I can tell you right now, I don’t think anyone does, not parents or even therapists.
Maybe it’s because we’re scared to talk about it. To share it. It’s our “Dirty Little Secret.”
We keep it hidden.
Tuck it away in a closet.
Push our feelings down.
Why are we scared?
Because we are shamed and ridiculed for it…there is a ‘great divide’ with those who think it is or isn’t ok to share a story like mine.
And because people will say things like “they just need discipline.”
Of course, those are the people that have absolutely no idea…they don’t actually LIVE in our world.
Maybe the real fear is a person who doesn’t understand our world will call someone, that our babies could be taken away from us, that they will be taken away in handcuffs from home or even at school. But that’s not going to fix it.
What if we do speak up?
Ever since this pandemic, I feel like we are going slowly backwards. As some kids return to schools and day care centers, it appears that some don’t want to deal with our kids, the severity of their disabilities and their extreme behaviors.
I feel this weird shift, as if our kids are slowly being forced back into hiding like many years ago.
Even before Covid, a lot of our cries were usually buried under Medicaid denials and waiting lists a mile long.
We get silenced with mounds of paperwork and impossible income limits.
But if we keep staying quiet.. we don’t get the help we need, the support Special Needs families deserve.
There has to be more research and resources.
Therapies that are well within our financial means or more funding.
No more waiting on year long lists to get services.
Less fighting for what our kids need.
Our kids deserve to have a seat in the “neuro-typical” world.
“Neuro-diversity” has a place in this world too.
In fact, many of these unique minds are responsible for great things..due to the special way they see things, that other brains can’t.
The beauty is in the details.
But they need assistance to get there. Parents out there are lost. Siblings are scared and confused.
We can’t stay silent.
I don’t think that’s helping.
This isn’t my only tale.
I could tell you more stories about damaged furniture and walls, broken collectibles, picture frames and shattered lightbulbs…the hard blows to our glass patio door and flatscreen that he smashes his head into..large toys and food thrown at my head and face, the repeated kicks to my arms and legs that left me bruised all over, hits that left handprints, dislocated jaws, bloody, broken noses and a broken arm.
Just because he’s six doesn’t mean he’s not capable of that type of hurt, damage and destruction…Some of those things he did at three and four..and he’s just growing….getting stronger.
Just because this may seem shocking to some doesn’t mean it’s not true.
And I’m not alone, I know that. There’s a mom or dad right now going through exactly the same thing, trying to keep themselves, their whole family safe. I connect with many everyday who have a similar story.
We argue with our spouses over the inevitable…what happens when they get older and bigger? We lie awake at night praying to God that we won’t have to send them away, that terms like, “residential” and “treatment centers” aren’t something that becomes our reality..that it won’t get so bad that we can’t keep ourselves or even them safe.
Because the injuries don’t stop with just us..they hurt themselves too.
And we are usually powerless to prevent it, sometimes even stop it…our children harm themselves daily by hitting, biting, scratching until they bleed.
I debated for a long time if I should share this side of our life.
If I should put out on display the lowest point of this roller coaster ride we call Autism..
Aggression and self-injurious behaviors.
The fear of strangers reactions, or even my son’s should he read this someday…would stop me.
But building awareness about his disability has been my goal.
So brutal honesty has to be at the forefront.
Changes can’t be made within our broken system if we aren’t willing to be brave and step forward.
I may not have control over whether my son has Autism…but myself and so many others hold the power to help build a better future for our children and for their families.
So I write this for those who are fighting the same battle.
I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. I understand and “I’ll sit with you in the dark.”
I want to build awareness so people outside our lives know there are seriously scary and bewildering sides to our world…ones that we are desperately trying to navigate..ones that we try to manage and fix daily with any solution someone tells us to try..and believe me..most of us have tried them all..therapies, diet changes, meds.
You have no idea the things we have probably attempted to help our child feel better.
The countless doctor and specialist visits we have made to figure it all out, to break it down and treat each issue individually.
I share “our hard” so that the next time you think you are seeing a child “act out” or a parent “hurting” their kid, you think twice about calling the authorities. You practice the pause.
You take a closer look for a moment because you may just be witnessing a meltdown in public..which let me tell you, is the hardest moment for that child and the parent trying to manage it.
They are just trying to help their kid the best way they know how in the moment or may be trying to remove them from a very stressful situation.
My wish is that others will offer support, ask questions..or just listen..because we need that.
Judgement won’t help us.
Trust me our minds go there enough as parents, we are our worst critics. We blame ourselves for things we may or may not have done. We assume fault for our child’s behaviors. We wonder hourly if we are doing enough.
We lie awake at night with questions running through our mind and we feel like we are going crazy.
Dealing with aggressive behaviors make you question everything you do.
Is this my fault? Did I cause this?
Am I really in an abusive relationship with my child?
The answers we come up with in our heads are just as confusing as we try to rationalize or justify them. Maybe?
Sort of….not exactly…the actions are the same..the back and forth of getting hurt and the remorse that follows are very familiar.
So isn’t that what this is?
If that’s not it..what do I call it?
Because that’s what it feels like.
We get hit, they say sorry, we go back etc…
But the reasons are different.
They aren’t malicious.
And it’s not his fault..it not anyone’s fault.
But I am a woman who has suffered both types from a man and my child.
I can tell you there is a huge correlation to both…and leaving isn’t always easy even with an adult.
Some may say it’s not the same.
But I can tell you, having been through both, I personally, experience the same emotions and feelings of hurt, betrayal, and disbelief.
Even the fear..knowing that if he can hurt me this way, this little, what will happen when he outweighs me? Odds are he will need lifelong assistance and will probably live with us forever.
But when it’s your child there’s a never ending love attached to these feelings.
They are your world..their happiness and well being are everything to you. You’d do anything, move mountains to keep them safe and protected. So the weight of it is so incredibly heavy. You feel responsible for them, for their actions, you brought them into this world.
Even though you know it’s not your fault, you know it’s not theirs either..so there’s another emotion we feel..Guilt.
For their behaviors, and for the moments of weakness.
We feel awful for having thoughts like, I can’t do this another day. or I hate Autism.
Because some of us do.
Where is the line with my child?
Where does the Autism begin and end?
What part of him makes him hurt like this..so much that he harms himself and others?
I would cut that part out if I could, if it meant he didn’t have to suffer anymore, although I know that it’s not how autism works, it’s part of him, it’s who he is and I am proud to call him my son.
But he is suffering. Kids don’t behave this way “just because”.
He is riddled with anxiety. His adhd makes it impossible to focus. I wonder daily what it must be like to be in his body.
And I can’t imagine a world where any parent out there, even the ones that love their children and think their Autism is the most awesome thing…can spin getting beat up daily in a positive light.
Watching my son do these things has been the darkest part of his autism for me.
Knowing my other children sometimes witness these things..
So I write this for them.
They love him, want to help him, protect him.
But I worry..what message is it sending..accepting this type of negative behavior just because their brother has a severe disability? I have talks regularly about how this behavior is not ok, that being treated this way is never acceptable.
And their safety is our number one priority.
We have code words and “clear the room” strategies in place..they know what to do.
But it’s so unfair, it’s definitely not the life we imagined and at times I believe is traumatic, which is why I put them in counseling.
And the despair I feel when my son hurts me..
The heartache I get from not being able to help him or make it stop. I just want him to be able to live his best life.
I just want my child to be happy..isn’t that what any loving parent wants?
But the help isn’t coming..it’s slipping away, the way water does if you try to hold it.
Read that girl’s story above again.
Sometimes her world seems like a Lifetime movie.
And if you were sitting in your living room watching it yourself, you might expect her to get really hurt.
You think…she’ll just go back..as you roll your eyes.
You’re shouting at the T.V…
You’re waiting for her to get the restraining order.
You’re worried it will happen again.
In fact you know…It WILL happen again.
If she doesn’t leave.
But what if she can’t? What if it’s not only impossible..but unthinkable.
Because it’s her child, her baby.
Her love is unconditional.
And she won’t leave him..
Stories like this one are the result of my son losing coping skills after being home without any type of structured environment for six months straight..four years of hard work is being lost…regression.
Friends, this is not the time to be silent.
Our autism and special needs community is in a national crisis. Loss of school, therapies and services are at stake and the choices being made will have long-lasting effects on our children’s future progress and in the homes they reside.
Help is disappearing and our kids are being forgotten. We must be brutally honest, no matter how hard that may be. I am just one person with a story like many..I am just a mom who wants the best for her child and family.
This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever shared…my daily heartbreak in written form..my hopes in sharing it is that it will make others feel less alone and that the right people will start to listen.
This post originally appeared on the Facebook Page Three Little Birds