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Life Lessons from Raising an Autistic Child (Part I)


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I am frustrated, and embarrassed, and, yes, annoyed with Menachem, though logically I know that it is not his fault, that he can’t help the way he is behaving, any more than a baby can be blamed for throwing a tantrum. Menachem functions on the level of a sixteen-month-old, albeit with the strength and speed of a much older child, which makes for a very difficult combination. My wife has trouble restraining him, so it falls to me to be in charge of him, from the moment he gets off the school bus until he goes to sleep (night time is a different matter altogether!). Being in charge of him means more than just keeping him in constant sight; it means being within arm’s length. Always. As I know all too well from experience, Menachem is in constant motion, and one second’s oversight can result in massive mayhem. We’ve tried several times to get household help, so that my wife and I can focus more on our other children, but inevitably, after about two weeks, the hired help would throw in the towel, and we’d be on our own once more.

As I stare at my son, lying in a stubborn lump on the asphalt, both of our tensions rising in the face of the noise and bedlam we are creating, I suddenly pull myself back. There is nothing Menachem can do to get himself out of this situation on his own; Hashem did not give him the tools to do so. So that means it is all up to me. In order to move himself, Menachem needs to calm down. And the only way for him to calm down – is for me to calm down.

I take a deep, stabilizing breath, force myself to ignore the ambient riot, and place a gentle hand on my son, trying to give over a sense of calmness. At long last, he quiets down, and finally, he gets up and we walk together back to the sidewalk.

For the drivers in the backed-up cars, the incident most likely provides grist for a heated retelling at home, capped off with a “Can you believe there are parents like that out there?” or perhaps with a more understanding, “The kid obviously had problems – thank G-d it’s not my son.”

But as for me, I make my way back home, gripping my son’s hand tightly, just another typical day in caring for Menachem.

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