Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Going to Battle

Oh boy… It’s going to be a challenge to write this story in 30 minutes (the time I have allotted to this particular activity today), but my life is lately all about smiling in the face of challenges, so here we go…

As I previously said, we recently introduced “nice strangers” in Joaquin’s life and his sacred Romper Room. The last time I posted on this site, Joaquin had just had his first Son-Rise session with Eliza, our first volunteer, and he also had just gone through an intense weekend Outreach with a Son-Rise child facilitator. These were all big “firsts” for all of us, and what happened after those encounters quickly evolved into hell…

To begin with, Joaquin decided that he did not want to go in the room any more. Although I was very disappointed initially, I was able to pick up my attitude and accept his behavior as a cry for a break and evidence that the recent events had been extremely challenging for him. So I gave him a break from the room for a few days, and as we approached the week before my trip back to the Option Institute for further training, I found myself a bit stressed and tired, and not having the perfect attitude to try to push a little harder for us to get back in the room. So with Eliza out of town and me about to go soon, Joaquin spent quite a few days without getting therapy, which initially was okay but soon started to stress me out.

Adding to the unspoken tension in the air, the munchkin suddenly started acting out with new and incomprehensible behaviors that slowly but surely ended up driving me crazy. To give a few examples: He’d close doors and immediately demand (with an edge to his voice) that I open them; he’d throw objects and with the same commanding tone request on the verge of tears that I pick up such objects; he became obsessed with typing numbers on the telephone, and when I took the “toy” away proceeded to use every single appliance within his reach to indulge on a crazy rampage of pressing its buttons… He’d cry for the phone, and the microwave, and I couldn’t leave the dishwasher for a second without him turning it on and starting a wash cycle. He’d do this collection of stuff repetitively all throughout the day refusing to go in the room, and instead asking over and over to go out on walks or strolls he would also attempt to control. After many days all these behaviors started to feel to me like they were designed to push every single one of my buttons; I felt manipulated and upset, and this left me without any desire to do Son-Rise and engage him in play, and since I didn’t feel capable of being loving and playful, I felt like I had no other choice but to accept his chosen activities, and so I felt impotently controlled by a two-year-old… And I resented it.

During my week at the Institute, I had a chance to ask several questions regarding Joaquin’s challenging behaviors, and discuss issues with a teacher on a personal consultation. I got practical guidance for dealing with the challenge of getting him back in the room with volunteers, and solidified the urgency to work on Joaquin’s crying /tantruming right now before we find ourselves with a bigger and stronger child who still uses tantrums to avoid any kind of challenge to his autism. I worked on the source of my discomfort when he cries, and through a dialogue scratched the surface of why it is that I felt powerless to his behaviors during the last week. Faced again the buried feelings of constant self evaluation on my role as a mother which keeps being the source of a lot of my discomfort in different situations… I did my homework and returned renewed with plans for our program and the rest of my life, and ready for the next stage of this journey.

During the weekend after my return, I faced the familiar “no mama” situation I had faced before. Although I have worked plenty on my beliefs about what it may mean, and I had been able to replace such beliefs with other nicer ones to accept, this time Joaquin’s cries for “no mama” affected me again, more than I was expecting. I had a lousy Sunday, but woke up ready to deal with the aftermath on Monday. My attitude was good and my intention to get Joaquin “back to school” was strong enough to try getting us in the room and accepting with perfect comfort the full hour and 15 minutes he cried. Out of the room, the fear of this never passing hit me… What it would mean… I considered the possibility of not trying to get Eliza back in the room until I get him comfortable again with it… And then realized that removing the challenge is not the way to go. So at night I told Joey “we all have to go in the room and suck it up”. The attitude being: We must do this. Must show him that the room / therapy / challenge is not going away. We need to do it if we want him to grow out of it and develop as we hope he will.

But this morning I had a great and beautiful epiphany…

“No mama” doesn’t mean “I don’t love you mama”…
“Want papa” doesn’t mean “I love papa more than you mama”…
“No romper room” doesn’t mean I’m breaking him and putting him through something that will hurt him…

Turns out, papa has almost never gone to the Romper Room to do therapy. Papa was not involved in getting Joaquin in the room with Katrina and Eliza. Papa is the fun guy that gives Joaquin all the rides and walks he loves but don’t challenge his autism in any way. None of this means anything against papa — I’m perfectly okay with how things have been so far — the realization is simply powerful because what I finally hear Joaquin say through all these different ways is “I don’t want to be challenged”, “This is really hard for me, and I don’t want to do it”. And all the things he did that I interpreted as an attempt to manipulate me can simply be seen as his attempt to gain control.

And what I realized is that we have reached a huge milestone!… We’ve gotten to that metaphoric crossroads where two roads diverge: One leads to an autistic eight-year-old who can’t go to school and terrorizes mom and dad with intense and possibly aggressive tantrums. Never challenged to conquer his challenges, this child grows into an autistic adult who still refuses to accept people and therefore never goes to school, never gets a job, and never becomes independent. This is the scenario most parents fear when their child receives a diagnosis of autism. The second road leads to that bright and loving child I get to see every day being able to participate in the world, receiving education, developing relationships, being able to share and make his mark in this world.

I’ve armed myself with tools, attitude and knowledge, and have walked the path to “meet battle”. I faced “the enemy”. It roared war on my face and I got scared, cursed being there, and doubted the next steps to take. Last night, I knew I needed to keep going, but I was gearing to fight grinding my teeth and out of fear for ending on road number 1.

What I felt this morning was totally different. I saw the mountain ahead of me. Recognized it for what it is: Not a sucky event I was hoping to avoid… THIS IS IT!… We’ve gotten to that place. We’ve reached Joaquin’s edge. This is that one great opportunity to turn everything around. This is where it begins!… From here on, every step we take will be one more towards that fabulous outcome I so want for my son. The journey that has taken us here was simply putting us back to where we were before autism took hold. The road from here is all new territory, and every day that he goes in the room with a “nice stranger” and he survives it, it teaches him something… It moves him forward towards conquering the biggest challenge of his almost 3-year-old life.

Last night I was going to “suck it up”, and this morning found my Superior Self giving me a battle speech in the shower. She showed me the opportunity… The significance of this moment… The excitement to be here… The conviction in my purpose, and the joy in moving forward, picking my little one up and being there for him strong and clear, sure of where we’re going so he only has to deal with his own fears; not mine or anyone else’s…

And this morning Joaquin and I went in the Romper Room, spent two fun hours playing (zero tears or protests), and then Eliza came, heard my battle speech, went in the room with Joaquin and acted on my directions to give him full control and request nothing from him. The world didn’t come to an end. Joaquin didn’t go on a coma. He didn’t even cry on Eliza in the room. Day number 1 is over, and if there is a finite number of days to get there, today we can count one less on our path to the end.

Joaquin and Joey climbing steps
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  1. On , KSR wrote:

    Mafe – this is so awesome! I’m so glad you are documenting your journey……I really feel for you in the challenges you face every day…but most importantly, I stand in tremendous awe of what a GREAT mom you are and how beautifully you have embraced your challenges. … Joaquin is perhaps the luckiest little boy in the world….your personal growth, willingness to share it, and ability to write about it so honestly and eloquently are nothing short of inspiring……;-)

  2. On , Vivienne wrote:

    Mafe, you are amazing. If you ever feel like a change (ha! :)), you would be an amazing life coach!!

    Abrazos – your journey is truly inspirational…

  3. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you auntie Kim!… I’ve had good role models and angels in my life ;) … I swear, what hit me in the shower wasn’t me. I felt like every word that came to my mind was the kind of thing that a Son-Rise teacher may have said on a lecture talking in general about anybody’s journey. I was so inspired and shocked that it came from within me, and how simply it changed my whole perspective and attitude taking it from ok to great.

    Vivienne — gracias guapa!… You know… Joke aside, I actually have discovered that I enjoy this whole thing very much. I started enjoying playing in the room to the point of self-surprise, and also love the whole dialogue process. It’s made such a difference in my life and I want to get deeper into it and perhaps learn to do it for others. So I’ve actually contemplated the idea of ending up doing something around this new area of “life” some day… Who knows where I’ll end up, but I have the nagging feeling that it probably won’t be where I was headed. I’m pretty open to the possibilities now :)

  4. On , Tamara wrote:

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey. It is inspiring and helps me shift my thinking and perspective. So glad you were able to go back to Options, a wonderful place to grow in awareness.

  5. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you Tammy!… It was wonderful being there again. Hope you’re doing well with your students and personally :)