When I began therapy as an adult, the first skill I had to learn was asking for help. There is nothing I wanted to do less. I would have rather continued on my path of self-loathing and emotional stagnancy, but I had children. I’ve heard it from many mouths that what we want for our children is for them to be better than we are. That statement is true for me. I’ve also heard we have to be the example for them, show them what steps to take. We have to be better than we are for our children to be better than we are.
After our first child was born, my partner and I agreed to apologize. We stopped yelling at each other, calling names, going to bed angry. We quit acting like children. At first, it seemed we were less emotional, but it quickly became clear we’d grown more emotional than we’d ever been. Because every time we said sorry we felt anger, guilt, shame, humility, sadness and love. Love so big we kept at it until there were fewer and fewer offenses to apologize for.
An apology is a request for help in forgiving oneself. “I’m sorry” says “let’s move forward.” It’s a chance to grow beyond a mistake, a request to be seen as more than the impression we’ve given.
I know how important it is to move beyond an initial impression. My son is high-functioning on the Autism spectrum. At first (and second and third) glance, he seems typical. But a deeper look or longer exposure shows him to be reactive and angry. The truth is, he is anxious and afraid. He has an overdeveloped fight or flight response, tending toward fight. It disables him in social settings. It prevents him from comfortably and safely engaging in typical kid activities such as group sports or morning meetings at school.
He made a plan this year to create a new impression of himself in school. He wants people to see that he is funny, friendly, kind and cool. He wants them to know he isn’t angry or mean. That he isn’t spoiled or bratty. He wants kids and adults to know he is a person doing his best–and this is so, so, so critical to his success–because he knows they aren’t going to see how hard it is for him to look like everyone else but frequently not understand what’s going on.
This kid is smart. His intelligence is ridiculous, especially when offset by his underdeveloped emotional maturity. He’s a brilliant powerhouse of insecurity. He is an endless fountain of knowledge and misunderstanding. He is strong. He is beautiful. He is struggling.
We noticed recently that he has been harming himself in subtle ways. Scratching tiny holes in his body, chewing his nails until they are painful, refusing to eat. We know this is a response to the difficult transition back to school. Transitions have always been difficult for him. When his different needs present themselves, they are always in relation to change. A new path to walk, an unexpected ingredient in a meal he thought he knew, a new teacher, a changed lesson time, an illness jarring his routine and so on. He regularly has trouble getting back into his classes when there are sounds or smells or motion he isn’t prepared for in his classroom.
What I’m saying is, he needs help to get there. He was born with instincts that require constant apology even though it’s not fair. He needs support in developing skills in the moment beyond what his therapist and teachers and family can provide. So I’m asking for help in providing that support.
After multiple recommendations, considerable research and significant planning, we are trying to acquire a service animal. The cost is prohibitive, and we are hoping to get by with a well-trained therapy dog. To that end, we have reserved an Australian Labradoodle puppy from a litter due in October. We don’t know yet how we’ll fully pay for the animal or it’s training. We are still hoping we can come up with enough money for full service training. However, we trust that therapy training can be enough and are moving forward.
If you would like to learn more about why or what or how you can help, click here and read our story. I also welcome you passing this link on. You never know who is out there waiting to change a little boy’s life for the better.