Posts Tagged ‘obsessions

As a mother of a 6-year-old on the autism spectrum, I found reading Laura Shumaker’s memoir “A Regular Guy: Growing up With Autism” at times funny, heartbreaking and just plain terrifying.

regular-guyShumaker chronicles her experiences as the mother of an autistic son, Matthew. Her journey begins with how her perception of those who are disabled was molded by her mother’s cousin, Uncle Henry, who had a severe case of cerebral palsy. Growing up, she couldn’t help but privately laugh at Henry with his awkward body and movements. She also couldn’t help but form opinions about disabled people she met during her teens and early 20s.

It wasn’t until her mother scolded her and told her to think about how those people’s mothers would feel if they knew somebody was making fun of them. That sobered her up, but she didn’t have to worry about it. That would never happen to her.

And then Matthew was born.  He was a beautiful baby who progressed normally his first year of life. He then seemed to regress.  He was different than the other toddlers. Laura and her husband hoped he would grow out of it. But he wouldn’t.

Although Matthew and my son, Sage, have some significant differences, there were parts of the book that I could have written about my experience, starting with my perceptions about “different” people before Sage came into my life.

The Shumakers began to wonder about Matthew when he developed an obsession with wheels and drains. Sage has had several obsessions in his young life – the most prevalent being fans and air conditioners. At the Iowa State Fair when Sage was 3 or 4, he ran what seemed to be halfway across the grounds back to a large fan he remembered we had walked by earlier. Just this February morning he turned on the air conditioner because he wanted to go look at the unit outside.

Another aspect of Shumaker’s book that struck a chord with me was the perception others had about her child – that same type of perception we used to have about awkward, and sometimes annoying, children. The disapproving looks, the unintended condescending comments, the behind-the-back snickering – these all are familiar.

One thing Sage doesn’t seem to share with Matthew is a lack of empathy. I believe Sage truly does feel remorseful when he does something wrong. He also cares when somebody, especially a friend, is hurt or sad.

The terrifying moments in Shumaker’s book for me were when Matthew would leave the house and disappear, engage in meaningless conversation or relentlessly hit or pick on girls he liked just to get their attention. After all, he just wanted to be a “regular guy.”

It is every parent’s desire for their children be “regular” and have a “normal” life. But like the autism spectrum, the realm of “normal” is broad and unique for each individual.  

If you are the parent or loved one of someone who is “different,” I highly recommend Shumaker’s book. If you are not, I recommend it even more.

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    August 2020
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