I know even for many neurotypical parents, homework and common core math can be hellish, but, when you add a dash of autism, sprinkle on some anxiety and mix in a little perfectionism, homework burns a wee bit hotter and very few come out of the fire unscathed.
Hands down, some of the ugliest, hottest, most infernal moments for Ryan and me throughout this autism journey have been during the homework witching hour. When Ryan gets stuck, when autism digs its stubborn heels in, and I have no way of releasing its grasp, Hades, I mean homework, is hell on both of us. Ryan gets frustrated by my inability to get it, I get frustrated by my inability to get him. This often leads to tears (from both of us), yelling (mostly me) and licking our first degree burns for a few hours as we try to recover. I wind up apologizing for losing my patience and make a promise to myself and to him that I will do better, that I will be better, then a Text Independent Anaysis of two very vague poems comes home and I find myself burning in the firey flames of Hades and guilt yet again.
It's bad enough that my brain no longer functions at 100% capacity (thank you college years), but, combine that with my ovaries also functioning at about 50% and my Homework Buddy skills have become even worse than they were five years ago, when communication was even harder for Ryan. As I read the homework assignment for the third time trying to understand what the hell a Text Dependent Analysis even is, there sits my sweet boy equally as confused as me. Yes, he was in class the day the assignment was given, yes, he heard the teacher explain the directions multiple times and yes, he even told the teacher he understood the directions, yet, two hours after we began, his paper still didn't even have his name on it, he is still unable to tell me how or why he is so stuck and I still haven't been able to reach him. At all. It's easy to see why in those firey moments, we both feel like we are trapped in the Underworld.
Homework and Hades both start with the letter H. You don't want to end up there, but, when you do, you do whatever you can to get out. Fast.
Here are 10 reasons why in our house, autism may be The A Word, but, homework and Hades are the mother %#*&ing H words:
1. Your kid knows he is different and refuses to tell the teacher he is stuck because "everyone is looking at me" so he sits in class for three days and tells the teacher he is "still thinking" when in reality he has no idea what he is suppose to do. The fear of looking "different" outweighs the desire to attend the end of year Honors Party.
2. When your child's thoughts are so rigid, so concrete and so practical then anything outside the realm of reality is too ridiculous to waste his "precious time" on. If in reality, a bear can't ride a bike, then "How would I know how the bear feels if someone stole his bike when a bear can't even pedal?". Touche.
3. If you help too much it's cheating. If you don't help enough, you don't care. It's a fine line that varies from day to day, subject to subject, mood to mood. Good luck walking it.
4. If you give a suggestion and it's stupid, well, you are stupid. If you give a suggestion that is great, well, you are still stupid because you didn't offer that suggestion 30 minutes ago thus wasting more "precious time".
5. If touching paper feels like needles in one's spine, then one will not want to create a collage mobile out of folded pieces of paper. If, however, you try to make the mobile, then that is cheating (see #4) and the mobile is flung at your head. Twice.
6. When history has proven a Hades like homework pattern and you ask your son if he needs help and he glares at you and says, "No because we are just going to end up in an argument because usually your ideas are ridiculous" (see #5 for further clarification), but, you go in, wearing fire proof clothing and offer to help anyway. As history has foretold, initially, your idea is in fact ridiculous until hour two when it becomes less ridiculous (see "precious time" in number #2) and he cements his theory by the assignment ending in an argument over your "mean tone of voice". Sigh.
7. When you go online to check grades and see that in every subject he has dropped a letter grade or two after you have been told he "wants to handle it on his own" and you know you need to let him, but, then lose your mind and scream that he is "Minecraft negligent" (yeah, I created that, feel free to use it in the depths of your own homework hell), open a bottle of wine and come up with your best, least ridiculous idea ever.
8. With such a breakthrough, you know that from this time on, you will always have a glass of wine for any and every writing assignment in the future hoping your ideas aren't as ridiculous and your temper not as hot. (Wine is available in Hades. Of course it is.)
9. Out of complete frustration, you look at your child who has an autism diagnosis and part of what makes an autism diagnosis is a core deficit in communication, and say, in a not so nice voice, "You have to learn to communicate with your teachers" and realize as soon as the words come out of your mouth that another paper mobile should be thrown at your head. You quickly apologize and tell him you know communicating is difficult for him as the flames of Hades burn your heart.
10. Recognizing that no matter how burned I feel after the homework hour (or three), that no matter how hard I think it is on me, it is ten times harder on him. Which is precisley why, I keep offering to help time and time again, not matter how ridiculous my ideas may be or how bad my hair gets with the heat in Hades.
I do believe there is a way to rise from The Underworld. It may come just when the fire is as hot as it can be and you believe there is no escape from the heat.
For me, it happened when my son looked at me through tears and said, "My brain feels like it's on fire because it just doesn't work that way due to my disability" and then your own tears begin to fall helping to put out the fire in your own brain. It was in that moment, that the firey flames turned to embers. It was in that moment that I had to remind myself that no matter how hot the fire feels to me, I must never lose sight that it burns much hotter for my son.
My son looks to me to douse the flames in his brain with patience and understanding which is precisley why, when in Hades, Mommy sometimes takes a time out from the fire and the Text Dependent Analysis (I still have no idea what the hell that even is) and returns refreshed and calm and sometimes carrying a glass of wine.
He needs me to get the hell out of Hades (is that redundant?). So I do. That doesn't mean I won't occasionally feel the homework flames and start to slip back to the Underworld, but, the pull from my son above ground is stronger, so I grab a fire extinguisher and the wine and Google "text dependent analysis" and we get the job done. The homework binder is then closed....until tomorrow night, but, next time I will do better. I hope.