Napalm in the Morning

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.



When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. And I mean, a lot. For instance, when I was in the 5th grade, I went to 2 different schools in one week. I won’t go into all the reasons why we moved. But between mom’s restless nature and money issues, I lived in a total of 18 different houses until I left for college. No joke. Every time I started to establish firm roots, I was plucked up and planted someplace else. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be in the same school district. Other times, I was not. And like flowers in a garden, you either learn to adapt and become so strong that nothing can kill you or you wilt and die.

So it’s not hard to imagine there were some real gaps in my education. I was a good student and usually enjoyed school. But I always felt like I was either behind or ahead of everyone else and mostly kept to myself. I left home at sixteen when they decided to move again and lived with friends until I graduated a semester early. Looking back now, I’m surprised that I did as well as I did. I also realized moving around a lot was an education in and of itself. Making me more flexible and resourceful, I learned to assimilate into any new situation quickly, how to ask for help when I needed it, and grew to be so damn determined to be the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

Little did I know that one day, because of a global pandemic, I would homeschool my kids, and many of those gaps would begin to fill in. One of the best things about being my kid’s teacher is that I can take my time and stick with a topic until they have fully assimilated it, which is critical for my son, who has high functioning autism. While his IQ is somewhere north of 130, he struggles with learning new material, which makes school a problem for kids like him since they are allowed only so much time to learn the material. In elementary school, his grades were not excellent, but not bad. They were also not predictive whatsoever of his actual intelligence. They say that gifted kids also have a learning disability. So while he could memorize a 32-page book word for word, he couldn’t tell you the context of the story or its meaning.

As with a lot of spectrum kids, reading comprehension is a significant issue for him. And it remained his biggest issue until he got to middle school, where things changed for the worse. You see, the other critical components of Aspergers kids are that they struggle with peer assimilation and social cueing. For example, something that you or I may just “pick up on” won’t even register with him. So he often speaks out of turn and talks about subjects that seem random and out of place. To him, what he’s saying makes perfect sense, but to others, not so much.

Unfortunately, this cognitive deficit led to relentlessly bullying, which often left him in tears. He ate lunch alone and developed a strategy for choosing which corridors to walk down to avoid his tormenters. His teachers saw him withdraw, and his grades began to plummet. Never one to run from problems, I decided to hire a private tutor, set him up with a private counselor, had a girl removed from two of his classes, and sought a resolution with the other bullies from the school counselor and the 6th-grade principal. Just as things seemed to turn the corner, covid hit. And when I became his teacher, the real heartbreak set in when I realized just how far behind he was. So I put everything else aside and took on the role of a full-time teacher.

It goes without saying that when you are a teacher, you have to know the material before you can teach it.  So for weeks before starting school and every night afterward, I became a student again.  In some subjects, I am re-learning material that I’d forgotten.  But in other subjects, I am learning things I never knew.  And I have to say it’s pretty cool.  I certainly appreciate the knowledge that I’m gleaning, way more than I did when I was a kid. I also kept my youngest child at home too.  She is just the opposite of her brother.  A social butterfly, often bored in school because she isn’t being challenged enough. 

And I am teaching them so much more than math and reading, science, or social studies.  I’m teaching them to think critically and not believe everything they see, read, or hear.   I am teaching them that the victors write the history books, but there is always more to the story.  We are learning about poets, artists, and activists.  We take field trips to the art museum and hike through the woods.   Cooking is science class, and math is everywhere we look. 

When he was young, a school counselor told me that my son had a limited learning capacity and would likely never go to college. I am proud to say that he is catching up, and not only is he doing well, he is flourishing. He will begin taking dual credit college courses in two years and will graduate from high school with an associates degree. But most importantly, he’s happy and knows that by putting in the hard work, he can learn. He also knows that no matter how hard it is, and no matter how bad it gets, life can always get better. My 2nd grader is doing 3rd-grade work now and has taken over, reading to me every night. I’m pretty sure that if I’ve ever had a life’s purpose, I’ve found it in teaching my kids.

And in case you don’t know Invictus, here it is.

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

— William Ernest Henley