Ann Bauer wrote a hauntingly sad piece on Salon today about watching her autistic son Andrew turn from a boy she could almost get to know, to a violent, damaged man she might never understand.
But in the months before turning 18, Andrew grew depressed and bitter. Huge and hairy — a young man who grows a beard by twilight — he suddenly became as withdrawn as he'd been at 4. Many of his old symptoms returned: the rocking and "stimming" (e.g., blinking rapidly at lights), the compulsion to empty bottles of liquid soap. Sometimes he would freeze, like a statue. Classic catatonia, the experts told us. We tried a series of medications, but that only made him worse.
Once during this phase, he beat me. A neighbor heard me screaming and called 911. But I blamed this on the drugs.
He's placed in a treatment center and then a series of group homes where his behavior deteriorates.
He shoplifted like a pro, traded his belongings for sexual favors, and dined and dashed so often some local restaurants had his picture posted in their kitchen under the words, "Don't serve this man." I told myself at least he was thinking, making his own bad choices, experiencing adult consequences. A part of me was even proud.
But he'd also quit reading, conversing, learning people's names, or keeping track of the day of the week. He ate like some gnashing beast: stuffing food into his mouth until his cheeks bulged and food dribbled out onto his clothes. And after moving to the rural group home selected by a judge because it was miles from restaurants or businesses where he could steal, Andrew morphed again, the warty monster from a Grimm fairy tale, demolishing everything in his path.
He explains his behavior: "I don't like being caged."
He beats her again, leaving her with 3 cracked ribs and liver damage; he assaults his tutor; he goes after his younger sister. They try to find him treatment, again, but no one has any beds available until he nearly kills an aide in his group home. Then, of course, there's a bed.
She's struggling, of course, having written of finding her son again after years of therapy, having written about what it is to mother an autistic child and love him. She saves her sleeping pills for a suicide attempt if, having failed to keep people safe from her son, she needs to use them. Finding no cause for his behavior other than him, she visits him in the psych ward, where her other son has to hold him down to prevent yet another assault. She remains quiet, feeling like more of a failure.
Once, when someone asked why I was so quiet, I mentioned that one of my children was in the hospital, quite ill. She touched me and said something kind. I knew she was thinking of something like leukemia and I wanted to tell her I would hack off my right arm in return for something as simple as cancer. The flickering beauty of a sad, pure, too-early death sounds lovely.
Reading that, I wondered whose too-early death she had really been pondering.
So why do it? Why out herself, her struggles, her son's worsening condition? Why put the lie to everything she wrote earlier about her sweet, thoughtful son.
We cannot solve this problem by hiding it, the way handicapped children themselves used to be tucked away in cellars. In order to help the young men who endure this rage, someone has to be willing to tell the truth.
So here it is.
She can't get the truth she needs, the help she needs, if in trying to de-mystify autism for the masses, she hides the full truth of her son away. And if that means ripping herself apart in print, she's willing to do it — and she's done it. And it's heart-wrenching, horrifying and beautiful all at once.
The Monster Inside My Son [Salon]
[Image via Ann Bauer]