My son Jackson is a super-smart kid with a big heart. He’s now in fourth grade and reading at near a high school level. He loves superheroes and cartoons, and he’s extremely picky about food. It was only recently that he received an official diagnosis of autism.
Now that I know more about autism, I can look back and see that he displayed some classic behavior. He had intense phobias of elevators and automatic toilets. He also had the habit of twisting his fingers in the air and making certain repetitive noises. It was kind of a routine he went through that he called his “sound effects.” The diagnosis now makes sense, but honestly, when he was younger I just thought he was a quirky kid.
It was when he started kindergarten and began to have trouble socializing that we considered counseling. His difficulty, we thought, came from the medical treatment his older brother, Wesley, was going through. That was the year that Wesley began complaining of headaches and lost energy. I took him to the ER, and a little over 24 hours later he was diagnosed with a rare, fast-growing cancer in his jawline, esophagus and sinuses.
Big Brother: Hero of a Superhero
Jackson adores his big brother; he is his hero and his best friend. So, just as Jackson was starting school, suddenly his big brother wasn’t on the bus anymore. I had to practically live at the hospital for weeks while Wesley was going through chemotherapy. Jackson would sometimes come with me and read books to his older brother.
As soon as Wesley’s chemo ended, we felt he could use some therapy to help heal emotionally as well as physically. I started thinking maybe Jackson could use some counseling because he had a hard time understanding what his brother was going through. That is what led to Jackson being diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
So, we got slammed with the cancer and then had to understand what the autism diagnosis meant for Jackson. The hand waving and noises, we learned are called “stimming,” which is short for self-stimulation. They are basically ways that Jackson calms himself. He’s happy when he’s doing them, and we’ve just kind of gotten used to them.