Yesterday after school, Janey got off the bus cheerfully, and I was determined to keep her that way. We snuggled, I gave her each snack she asked for, a shower when she requested one, and then I put on the shows she wanted. And changed the shows when she changed her mind after a second or two. And again. And again. And again. Then the phone rang, a doctor's office wanting to set up an appointment, so I couldn't instantly change the show. I managed to get the call done over Janey's increasingly loud requests. Then I said "What show do you now?" I do freely admit my voice had a hint of annoyance in it. I wasn't yelling, I wasn't openly angry sounding, I don't think, but I didn't sound patient.
That was enough for Janey to get furious. She screamed, bit her arm and spilled a bottle of soda on the floor. I made her help me clean it, and then put on the show she wanted, which she instantly turned off, glaring at me.
Then she said her favorite new phrase. For background, I'll say that one day when she was very angry and lashing out, I told her she needed to tell me how she was feeling in words, and I gave her a lot of example phrases---"I'm angry at you, Mama! You made me very mad! I don't like what you did! You aren't listening to me!" And then, because she learns through hearing phrases and I don't want to censor her, I added "I hate you, Mama!"
Well, she ignored all my other suggestions and went right for that last one. Since then, she's been using it often. Sunday night, she screamed it in fury so Tony could hear it a house away. And yes, that is what she said yesterday. "I HATE you, Mama! I HATE YOU SO MUCH"
I was proud she added in that last part of the phrase herself, despite the sentiment. I said "It's okay if you feel like you hate me right now. I love you anyway. Sometimes people do feel like they hate their mothers, and other times, they feel like they love them". Just so she was clear where she stood at the moment, she said "feel like you HATE your mother!"
I have to admit---I kind of liked the idea that having an autistic, low verbal teenager might mean that I would escape some of the teenage drama. It seemed like I had, at first. But lately, I am reminded that in so many ways, Janey is like any other teenager. She has times when I annoy her and anger her to the point she can barely take it. I get that. And I know how that might be even harder to deal with when you aren't able to fully communicate what you want all the time, and when you spend a lot more time with your mother than most girls your age.
We're seeing more signs of Janey growing up lately, and we are realizing more than ever how much she understands without being able to fully show her understanding. In the last month, Tony and I have both noticed how much she monitors everything we say, especially actually when the conversation is not directed at her. She is quite an eavesdropper. We can be chatting away, and somehow say something about going someplace, and she is instantly next to us, saying "Shoes on! Go for a car ride!" Or we are talking about food, and she runs over and adds her two cents worth---"Go to the store. I want salami" or "Pizza! I want pizza!"
It's hard, because much more than actual words, Janey picks up on tone and mood. Contrary to many beliefs about autism, Janey is better at sensing moods and tone of voice than anyone I know. The slightest hint of argument or sadness or even when we take a serious tone in a conversation gets her very upset. And the opposite works---if she's upset, we can sometimes make her happy by talking to each other in an upbeat way and laughing (but it has to be sincere laughter---she knows the difference)
It can be easy, even for parents like us with quite a few years now of autism parenting experience, to fall back on some of the silver lining thinking about autism, thinking things like "At least she's always be our little girl! At least she's spared from adult worries! At least she doesn't want to purposely make us upset!" But thoughts like that aren't fair to Janey. They make her less than---less than a full, complex person. We need to always keep in mind Janey's age. She is growing up. She's going to be angry at us, sometimes. She is growing in understanding, even if we don't always see the growth day by day. We need to adjust our thinking, to treat her with respect, and yes, to teach her to treat others with respect. It's not always going to be easy, but not much about this whole gig is. Nothing worth doing usually is.