Napalm in the Morning

When he was three years old, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a variant on the autism spectrum. By the time he was five, I had read everything I could get my hands on about what they (at the time) referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome. “A syndrome is a recognizable complex set of symptoms and physical findings which indicate a specific condition for which a direct cause is not necessarily understood.” Though I suspect there is a direct correlation between agent orange exposure in Vietnam War veterans and the rise in Autism among their grandchildren.

Asperger’s is generally marked by:

  • Emotional Sensitivity.
  • Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas.
  • Linguistic Oddities.
  • Social Difficulties.
  • Problems Processing Physical Sensations.
  • Devotion to Routines.
  • Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits.
  • Dislike of Change.

There also tends to be a co-morbidity between mood disorders like anxiety and depression and behavior disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And please note, in this context, the word behavior is defined as a particular way of functioning (i.e., can’t focus) versus how a person chooses to conduct themselves. 

When Covid hit and schools closed, I became Jason’s teacher. I then realized how far behind he was academically. Unfortunately, he is not only cognitively impaired but also socially impaired. And because of it, he was being bullied at school.

He often ate alone at lunch (he later told me it was easier because he didn’t have to worry about what to say). He likes quoting Francis Ford Coppola movies (Apocalypse Now is his favorite movie) and telling you the specifics of various World War 2 military battles. And let me tell you, those are not exactly great 6th-grade conversation starters.

And then, one day, a girl asked him if he’d be her boyfriend. I knew this girl and his troubles with her in the past. I warned him, but he was thrilled. And when he said yes, she proceeded to mock him and joke to everyone that he would never stand a chance. As his mom, this hurt, of course, but I also believe in getting hard knocks out of the way early. The school handled the situation remarkably, and Jason learned fundamental lessons about the human condition.

I kept him home for the next two years and became the county’s least-paid full-time middle school teacher. And that’s when I realized how bad his attention deficit disorder was. Not being able to focus also caused us a lot of anxiety. But he also comes by his inability to concentrate, rightfully. I could’ve had this piece written in two hours, but I got up at least 12 different times to do 12 other things. The squirrels in my head are also fast! But I don’t like labels and told Jason that if he can harness his ADD, it can be his superpower. 

We got ahead in school because we could stay with a topic until he “got” it. But I knew that was not possible in high school, where they covered a subject and moved on. I had held off on medicating him but knew his ability to focus was critical to his success. So, we did it, and he started meds over the summer. And academically, he’s doing great!

Thankfully we stopped his moodiness and outbursts when he was little with no meds needed. I read about the correlation between food and Autism and removed all dairy (specifically the casein protein) and gluten from his diet. There is a direct correlation between the severity of symptoms and these sticky proteins.

Anyway, high school has been great. He is good in math and bad (but getting better) with girls. He is also taking medication for anxiety (which he also gets from me) and for ADD. His grades are good, and he genuinely seems to be happy. Still, when he told me he had put his name in the ring for Homecoming court, my first thought was, “Aw, crap.”

My oldest, who loves her brother and wants nothing more than to protect him, pleaded with me to convince him not to run. But I told her that was not possible. He was way too excited. My only warning was to run a fair and well-mannered TikTok war with his opponent!

And guess what? He won and was elected to the freshman homecoming court. It turns out they were right. You are free to be yourself in high school, and nobody cares. Before he started high school this fall, he nobly reached out to the kids he had issues with in middle school and apologized. Those same kids have grown to know and embrace Jason and were instrumental in getting him the homecoming sash.  

If I had discouraged him from running, I could have robbed him of his success, of getting the win. And what a shame that would’ve been. He came up to me after this picture was taken and told me it was the best night of his life! That made this momma smile and even cried a little.

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