When Dayton was born it truly was one of the best days of my life. I never knew true love until I saw him for the first time. He was a happy easy baby for me and I enjoyed motherhood immensely. As a new mother, I didn’t have preconceived notions about how a child was supposed to act or what milestones he was supposed to hit when. He was just my sweet little buddy and I determined to let him be himself. When he didn’t walk or really talk until he was over a year old or he struggled to potty-train or stop sucking his binky by four years old, I still continued to just focus on his strengths and help him through his struggles the best I could.
When Dayton was little he struggled with balance, coordination and knowing how to use his body. When he was excited he would flap his arms and jump around the room. He would sit for hours setting up cars around the edge of a table or lining up his dinosaurs according to size. If anyone messed any of it up he would fall apart. He wouldn’t eat certain foods due to the texture - this included any vegetables. He would throw up if he had the wrong texture in his mouth. He struggled with loud noises and lights. Dayton didn’t give good eye contact in a conversation and struggled to know what was appropriate and okay as far as making friends with other kids. He could talk to adults though, usually about whatever subject he was obsessing about at the time. There was the elephant phase, the dinosaur phase, (Yea, I became a temporary paleontologist) the alphabet and three letter word phase, the Pokémon phase, the car phase and several others. He knew more about his favorite subjects or current interests then about everyday life. He could talk your ear off about his current phase for hours if you let him. During the dark and scary Pokémon years I felt like his main language was Pokémon and I struggled to speak it. We would go into a store and he would find one of his “fellow tribesmen” wandering down the toy aisle and they would have a discussion that I did not follow or understand. Yea, that was a tough phase. I still shudder at the memory.
I remember trying and trying to teach him how to ride his bike and then gave up. Somehow he got the impression that in order to go to kindergarten, he would need to know how to ride his bike so he went outside and taught himself how in an afternoon. At this point, I knew my buddy had something going on with him but I just didn’t know what. I remember when he was in kindergarten, the school was recommending that he be taken out of class to get special help because his testing was so bad. His teacher was confused by this. She said she had never had a student come in that knew all the alphabet so well, could spell so many words, or had so much knowledge about dinosaurs.
“He could end up being a doctor or engineer with how smart he is!”
Little did I know that this would be the dichotomy that is Dayton his whole life. When Dayton was in 2nd grade, the school counselor and psychologist brought me in and told me that he wanted to do some tests on Dayton. I said yes and we started the long process. This was when I was told that Dayton has Asperger Syndrome. I was told it is a high functioning form of Autism. Dayton had a lot of the behaviors. It made sense to me because although he was amazing he also struggled with some things quite a bit. He was artistic, intelligent, had an amazing memory and a sweet disposition, but he also really struggled in school, didn’t understand how to make friends, or how to deal with stress and didn’t have mind-body connection. The more I learned and researched the more I started to understand what challenges were ahead for him and what I had to do as a mom to support him and advocate for him. It was my job as his mother to help the world open their eyes to the amazing person before them, help fight for him to get the support he needed and help eliminate stress for him as much as I could. You see, when someone with Autism or Asperger Syndrome is stressed out, the behaviors that make them stand out are more prevalent. It has been a long journey but I have been determined to make sure he has every opportunity to be successful and happy. I have been accused of being a helicopter parent but unless you have been in my shoes you don’t get it.
Dayton just turned 18 and I celebrate the trials and triumphs. I have always spoken openly with Dayton about his Asperger Syndrome (AS) so he was armed with knowledge about how his brain works. He challenges himself and his behaviors on a regular basis. He chooses interests that make him push beyond his boundaries. For example, his AS challenges his mind/body connection so he has chosen to focus on body building. For a few years, he was on the wrestling team at school for the same reason. He is constantly teaching himself how to talk to people and what is appropriate to say. Our big family has helped a lot in this department. We are loud and in your face. As Kody says, we are aggressively friendly. This has taught him how to interact with a lot of different personalities and people. He also decided to push himself in school by taking Honors and AP classes. This isn’t always easy for him. If he is dealing with something stressful it throws off his focus then his school work suffers and he can struggle to get back on track. Going from elementary to middle school and then to high school was a huge adjustment every time and I would lose him for a while to his old behaviors. No matter the situation though he always pushes himself beyond his limits so he can excel. He is still so very talented too. He is so gifted with anything artistic or creative. He is better at managing my garden than I am. He is an amazing chef and is always being asked to bring something to a family get-together. He is an amazing brother to his siblings and a sweet kind son to his parents. He is constantly reading books about finance, investing, business building, self-improvement and the world around him. I know better than to argue with him when it comes to facts and news. He can argue his politics with facts and knowledge better than most, but still has a heart and sensitivity. I am just so proud of him.
I know that having someone in your life with Autism or AS isn’t always the success story that Dayton’s is and I know some are even better. Every person that has Autism or AS have different challenges and struggles and at the same exact time amazing gifts and talents. These amazing people don’t fit in the little box called “normal”. They challenge us to think beyond that box to the galaxies beyond and they are different.
“We need to expand our minds and hearts to see each for who they truly are.”
I wish every parent would sit down and explain to their children that not everyone will look like you, sound like you or act like you and it is still fun and cool to be friends with them.
The piece I designed to bring awareness to Autism and Asperger Syndrome is a heart with the words “…always in my heart” and a puzzle piece, the symbol for the cause. These amazing people are always in our hearts because we love them and their differences. They are a gift and help make our lives richer. I dedicate this piece to my handsome son, David Dayton.