‘Why can’t you just LISTEN?’ His type is known as ‘brat.’: Mom of Autistic twins discusses ‘comparing,’ ‘Each boy is different, yet one and the same’

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“I know you’re never supposed to compare children… as each are unique in their own right… but I would say most parents of multiples, particularly those of twins, have a really hard time not organically doing so.

Let’s start with the easy stuff.

Our boys could not look more different.

Jack has kind almond shaped brown eyes, and my thick chocolate brown hair. Luca is a dirty-blond, who lightens the moment that sun kisses it each summer, with hazel eyes that change like his mama’s depending on the color he wears, or the way the light catches him.

Jack has always had a bit of my chub giving him all sorts of love on the best handles right before he has a growth spurt, Luca is literally the statue of David. That kid has abs for days and the best butt you could ask for.

Let’s dig a little deeper, and talk speech and motor functions…

Jack was the first to babble… first to crawl… first to lock eyes and not let them go.

Luca would smile and giggle, but the sounds didn’t come until about 3 months past Jack. Luca watched Jack crawl for months until Jack figured out how to walk, and Luca thought- ‘Hey, I can do that too, thanks for the insight, buddy!’ Although it took Luca a little longer to make eye contact, once he did, he could hold it just as steady as his twin.

Speaking of connection…

After a year old, when those in our inner circle started to notice things we didn’t, we did notice the attachment and anxiety Jack had when you would leave him alone. As long as you were with him, he was content, where Luca could play by himself for hours.

When it came to sleep training, Luca was happy as a clam in his crib. He’d make noises while he lay awake, sometimes for nearly two hours at a time before he’d fall asleep.

Jack, however, put me through the ringer with sleep training. When I eventually stuck to it long enough to really let it work, the first night he wailed for 58 minutes, standing the whole time, until he completely exhausted himself. The second night, he did so for about 20 minutes less, and then another 20 minutes less the third night until finally he understood that it was time to go to sleep, and the world wasn’t ending.

At the time of their diagnosis… we realized Luca had a delay that could likely lead to a diagnosis, but we did not see all of the signs for Jack.

Yes, every transition for Jack seemed harder than it needed to be.

Yes, Jack had a really hard time understanding the concept of ‘because I said so,’ or ‘maybe later’ as in his head it was clear he understood when something could literally be accomplished, and that time could be insignificant as a factor in decision making.

I mean… Luca lined up his cars. Luca didn’t need anyone. Luca was happy as a clam by himself.

But Jack… He didn’t care about toys unless we played with him. Jack needed someone, particularly me, all of the time. Jack, it felt, had a hard time internally making himself happy, despite that he was a really happy kid.

Jack has BIG feelings. He doesn’t just have big feelings, but he feels everything at this extra level, and it doesn’t matter if he is in private or public, if he is feeling something, he’ll let you know. Unfiltered and unaware of what a filter would even look or feel like.

The thing is… for years, I had been told the type of kid that Jack was, was known as ‘a brat’ – spoiled or otherwise- poor listener, and someone who needed to be taught how to act.

When I became a mom, despite my decades of babysitting and nannying, while raising my own, this didn’t fit my kid.

Yes, I lost my patience more than once during the frustration of dealing with one of Jack’s very long tantrums, or public meltdowns.

And yes, I had pretty poor moments of parenting where I said things like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ and ‘Why can’t you just listen.’

I’m embarrassed to admit I even let a friend come over once, and try to teach me how to discipline Jack. Regardless that it was just ‘practicing timeouts,’ the entirety of it shook me to my core as wrong as I watched how it broke him at just four years old. It took my wife stepping in to validate that I was not alone in my feelings this would not work for our child, to end the lesson.

Over the last three years, since the twins were diagnosed, I’ve done non-stop research. I’ve gone down every ‘rabbit hole’ (as my wife so adoringly nicknames it) to try to understand what the boys can’t tell me about how they are feeling.

There’s a truly important concept when trying to understand Autism, that unless it is obviously stated for you, can be very easy to miss.

I will admit that I missed it.

I will admit that even though I know about it, and how it particularly applies to my children, I STILL miss it.

The ability to ‘executive function’ means you are able to understand a higher order of control processes necessary to guide behavior in an ever-changing environment. I know I’ve mentioned in previous posts that change in routine (thanks COVID) could throw our boys behaviors out the window, but this can be both a bit more complicated, but also as simple as that type of disruption.

If you aren’t familiar with the terms ‘executive function’ or ‘self-regulation’ simply put they are areas of the brain that control the following:

Impulse control
Emotional Control
Flexible Thinking
Working Memory
Planning and Prioritizing
Task Initiation

For someone on the spectrum, who’s wiring in these areas is differently wired, their ability to meet the expectations of a neurotypical’s ability to plan, remember, shift from one thought to another, respond when asked, as well as control their impulses when socially deemed necessary, can meet an unwanted struggle.

Jack could be asked a question seven times, and until the eight time, when he’s finished whatever thought was running through his mind on hamster wheel of distraction finally exhausts himself, is then able to bring his attention to you.

Now, whether or not he can answer, is of completely a different circumstance.

Are you someone he cares about, and wants to impress (or not disappoint)?

Are you asking him about something he cares about (please don’t confuse the two, as they are very different and equally important questions)?

Jack could also be told that his day was going to involve four steps, each explained in detail, frequently met by his questions so he could better understand it.

If step A goes as planned, but there is a hiccup in step B – however small it may seem to you – it will paralyze him, to where his executive functioning fails him, and he melts into a puddle of tears, or worse, lashes out in anger with the volume of his voice rising and hurtful words that escape without any filter.

He is crying not because he’s disappointed, but he’s frustrated, sitting in this overwhelming sense that he is not able to find control in the uncontrollable of a situation. The anger is an inner struggle of someone who feels lost where he should have felt fully present and aware.

These two simple examples: the first of what someone would deem a child being disrespectful, lazy, or unfortunately – incapable of understanding or being present (aka stupid); and the second of a child who would look problematic, dramatic, and aggressive.

In contrast… Luca can sit in a situation where steps A, B, C, and D don’t even happen, let alone in the order they were supposed to, without it phasing him.

When Luca is asked a question, if he does not respond, the questionnaire may move closer, try to make eye contact, and repeat in a patient but persistent tone (unlike a tone of continued frustration from needing to repeat themselves that had questioned Jack), because up until age 3, Luca was practically deaf. Only when he got tubes inserted and we saw the light go on in response to auditory understanding for Luca did we realize what we had been missing.

If Luca still doesn’t respond, the questioner may just chalk it up to that his communication and language hasn’t paralleled Jack’s yet, and he simply isn’t ready to answer.

The comparison not as black and white as it seems.

And yes, this is me, comparing my twins in the hope that I can show you why comparison is important, when done correctly.

The comparison here is not what Jack can do, and what Luca cannot, or vice versa.

The comparison is on what areas in which autism can create challenges with one’s ability to function in more than just where gross motor, language, sensory, and fine motor are concerned.

Executive Function is one of the areas of greatest struggle for those who would be considered gifted and on the spectrum, because in so many areas they thrive.

While comparing our twins, it’s very easy for us to summarize that Luca’s autism is externally evident, where Jack’s is internally evident.

Where external behaviors would be viewed as disruptive or unwarranted, Luca will be worked with to redirect those behaviors, relying on supportive strategies the way someone with a hearing impairment needs a hearing aid, or a sprained ankle needs a brace.

But for Jack, and those on the spectrum that experience things internally, the work to redirect those behaviors and identify supportive strategies is just as important.

Because as autism displays differently in both of our boys, they are the same in the struggle.

As different as they love and receive love, they are the same in that they wish to be loved.

And as each boy is uniquely different, yet as our children, they are one in the same.

Different, not less.

Remember that being kind will never be wasted upon someone.

Being wiser will always require a willingness to learn and ignore biases.

Being better to others means that when you compare two of anything, you’re looking at what makes them different, not what makes them less than.”

Courtesy of Christina Young
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