Listen Live


By Ingrid Michelle

Can you rel8 to this?

This may sound a little stereotypical, especially coming from a Black woman, but I believe the Black community has a rough time facing the truth of mental disabilities and other life challenges.  I can’t quite tell you why but we would rather keep the matter a hush than to openly discuss the problem so that we can get the help we need.  Often times, we call the person with the mental disorder, “special.”  I remember people would ask about my son, not to me but to others, “Is he okay, is he challenged?”  One person actually asked me, “Is he special?”  I didn’t know what that meant.  Special?!  ‘Why yes!’ I thought.  He sure is.  But what they really wanted to know was, is he retarded.  This was partially due to the fact that Noah could never sit still.  He was all over the place and trying to contain him was much like trying to keep the contents of a Coca Cola inside AFTER shaking the can.  Not many people understood him.  They didn’t understand us.  Noah bares traits of autism with ADHD.  And he is THE MOST beautiful, loving person I know.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.  About 1 in 110 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder (autism) and it is 4 to 5 times more likely to occur in boys than girls.   Autism has a 1,148% growth rate.  It is the fastest growing disability.  Although the Center for Disease Control has documented that Black children have significantly higher levels of mental retardation, autism is reported to occur within every ethnic, socioeconomic and racial group.

Autism became real for me many years ago.  Upon adopting Noah, I saw the signs right away.  Having been a Social Worker, I was required to tend to the needs of severely autistic children and young adults while an intern in college.  So when I saw Noah’s repetitive movements, lack of speech and motor skills (at the appropriate intervals) and questionable social skills, I decided not to give it a name but to love him through it – hard.  I was afraid.  I didn’t want to have a child with a mental disability, although I knew the risk in adopting the child of a drug addict.  His early withdrawals from cocaine and alcohol proved to have a significant impact on his ability to meet the benchmarks that “normal functioning children,” were scheduled.  But Noah being the kid he is, pulled his weight.  He is completely high functioning with traits of what I’m sure would have been more severe had I not demanded from him the way I did/do.  I pushed him through talking.  All I did was talk to him and force him to respond.  I didn’t let him give up although there were times I wanted to.  I was tired.  I demanded the cease of repetitions that could drive him into a stupor.  Although sometimes still present, they aren’t nearly as crazed.  I required eye contact from him even when I knew he was struggling.  I reprimanded him whenever he told me, “I can’t.”  THAT was never an option.  I hugged him until he couldn’t be hugged.  I kissed him so that all he knew was affection.  I told/tell him he was smart as often as possible and I thrust him into social environments, which is what he was most uncomfortable.  We were going to beat this thing and I didn’t care what it was going to take.  He had the makings of a genius and all I needed to do was to make sure that he/we didn’t give up.  The interesting thing about autism is, after it matures, ADHD becomes its best friend.  Talk about a hand full.

Needless to say it has been a battle, especially after becoming a single parent in the midst of this journey.  But Noah is a gift.  He gets it.  He understands the importance of relationships and feelings.  He once wouldn’t respond when you told him that you were hurting.  Now he laughs, pauses and asks, “Are you okay?”  Progress ~ however you want to look at it.  Progress!!  I have recently begun to call the autism what it is, still not labeling him but giving it its proper name so that I can get the resources necessary for him to win.  I have found myself on the side of fight for Noah in ways that I didn’t even know I/he needed.  Because he is a child that came through “the system,” I realize that there are so many resources that are out there for him/us to help in the managing.

Although it can be tough, autism doesn’t have to be the death of a family.  I am proof that you can teach boundaries and force the pieces of the puzzle to come together.   You can!  It’s not always easy but it can be done.  Noah is completely teachable and desires to know more.  The thrill is knowing that I had a little to do with that.  I’ve never been in the armed forces, but I’ve been one tough Drill Sergeant to my son.  There are no excuses…

Read more: