How My Son’s Autism Has Shaped My Yoga Practice
“It doesn’t matter if it is big or small, but it has to come from inside you. Something that you need your heart to help you answer.”
I take a deep breath. I am a mother of 3 beautiful children and my oldest son Christopher is severely autistic. This is important because it has shaped the person I am, my yoga practice, and my entire way of life.
My yoga practice is of great importance to me because it helps me to be a part of something bigger than myself. It connects me to the Universe. It helps me cope with circumstance. It helps me realize the things I am grateful for. It is something that can’t be taken from me. Right now, I am sharing my yoga practice with my children, and trying to explain intention.
“I’m always trying to help Christopher, so sometimes I ask for strength when he’s mad and hurting us and we don’t know why. Sometimes I ask for clarity and wisdom and guidance, to clearly see the path I should take for the best way to help him. Sometimes I ask for intuition, to know what he’s asking for and what he needs, to find a way to communicate with him without words.”
When my son regressed into autism, my world turned upside down. In an effort to learn more about what happened and how to help him, I became aware of the toxins in our world – genetically modified organisms in our food, pesticides being sprayed on our grass, chemicals in furniture, flame retardants in clothing, poisons in vaccines, radiation in wi-fi and smart meters – and the corruption and greed in the government. Everything I do is different. I was never “crunchy” – I was a pizza and Mac N Cheese girl, I bought what was cheapest for the most part, I did whatever the so-called experts or media sound-bytes said.
I don’t think that I was a particularly selfish or a bad person. I wasn’t lazy or unintelligent. I was just… BUSY! I trusted that doctors and news-people and education experts knew what they were talking about and had public interest in mind. And while I had no illusions that the government wasn’t corrupt, I never thought that it would be at the expense of the health of the entire country, or children.
So now I not only eat organic, but I learned how to cook (and it’s weird stuff – like kombucha and grain-free everything and no microwaving) and I don’t like the energy efficient light bulbs because they are loaded with mercury and I’m fighting with PECO to remove my smart meter. My children ask for essential oils and arnica when they fall. I make my own cleaners and deodorant and bug spray.
Autism has also made me more patient and kind. I realize that people are all going through personal struggles that may not be immediately visible. I realize that the way children behave is not necessarily the result of parenting. I realize that a lot of the people who I found annoying might have social difficulties that I was not aware of. I realize that everyone needs a friend and I am more aware that everyone deserves kindness and that I can be the person to provide this (and I am aware of how much this might mean).
I am also more aware of the body’s ability and desire to heal itself. I know that efforts like meditation, nutrition, and yoga are essential to keeping both my mind and body whole.
“So I can’t ask for toys? Can I ask for patience to help me wait for my birthday to get my toys?” my son asks me. “ Yes, you can do that.” I assure him. I wish that the intention was less materialistic overall, but I think that needs to come with time and maturity, and it can’t be forced on a 5 year old.
It is very important that I share my practice with my children because I want them to be THINKERS. I want them to think for themselves and not worry about what others think. It is so easy to think that if the majority is doing something that it’s okay or right or won’t have negative consequences. I want them to know that I respect their opinions and encourage their thinking and ideas. I love when I see that they are expressing their viewpoints. My son recently told his kindergarten class when they were discussing healthy food that their apples were not actually healthy because they had bug spray on them. Ha! I have to remember to support and respect them even when their views are different from mine!
“What do you want your intention to be Cara?” he asks his 2-year-old sister She replies, “ I want chicken!”
I wonder if autism hadn’t entered our lives what kind of person and mother I would be. Would I be riding through the McDonald’s drive-through on the way home from work? Would I be cleaning my house with toxic chemicals (probably not – I rarely clean!)? Would my children be on ADHD medication? Would I be a bitchy soccer mom demanding perfection from my children? Would I be on medication?
I try to express gratitude for everything I have, and this is what I think of when I think of autism. I am a better person for what autism has taught me. I saw someone recently post a similar sentiment on FaceBook. One of the responses was something to the effect of “I’m so glad it’s worth it that your son was brain damaged so you could avoid having a fat ass.” I am certainly not grateful for autism (and neither was the mom on FaceBook, I’m certain) – I would give anything in the world to not have my son be the sacrifice for my knowledge and personal growth, for him to be whole and healthy and to know that he can do anything he wants and achieve his dreams and have friends and tell me what he wants. I would give anything to know what he feels – what he thinks and what he’s scared of and what makes him happy – and to know who he is. I’m just trying to find the lesson that I am supposed to learn about the person I’m supposed to be. I think that lesson is about acceptance and healing and appreciation.
Often, I wish I didn’t have to learn this lesson. Even if I was eating at McDonald’s and living in a toxic house, wouldn’t I be happier in my bubble of ignorance? Sometimes I feel like Cassandra from Greek mythology, who asks for clarity and to see the truth in all things and when her wish is granted she is driven to madness because no one believes the truth she reveals. A friend recently gave a presentation and asked “What is the one-eyed man in the land of the blind? He is King, right?” But he went on to explain that he is not, because no one else can see what he can see, he is ridiculed. I feel this horror – I can no longer relate to most of my friends and family. Their concerns often seem unimportant or even ridiculous (I don’t care if your child told a lie. Kids lie! If my kid lied to me it would be the best day of my life! You don’t have poop smeared on your wall!). The things I talk about seem weird at best and sometimes tin-foil hat insane (no one wants to hear about the dangers and ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine at a party haha). Often, there is nothing I can do about something I know. Wi-fi might be dangerous, but I can’t avoid it. Even if I didn’t have it (and I do, I just turn it off at night), my work has it, my neighbors have it, my son’s school is in a hotspot. What good is knowing that the world is slowing killing you and your health if there is nothing you can do about it?!
But, I realize these thoughts are pointless. I can’t change the past. I can’t choose to un-know what I now know. I can only learn from it and do the best I can (my friend who told the story about the one-eyed man concluded his speech by saying that if you can see what others can’t you have a responsibility to tell the truth and inform, regardless of how unpopular this makes you). I also can’t predict the future. I have no idea what it will hold. While I hope to heal my son and I hope that my family remains in good health and I hope that my medical expenses don’t drive me into bankruptcy, I have no idea what tomorrow holds. Even if everything is my life was completely secure, the universe can (and usually does!) throw something completely unexpected at you.
So, I can only live in the present and make the most of THIS MOMENT.
I set my intention and practice yoga with my children.