I wanted to take a moment to hear from other people about their experiences in parenthood so I reached out to a long-time internet friend and her son to do a Q&A with me and my kids. Here's what we talked about.
Kirsten: Tell us your names, ages, and where you live.
Bryanna: My name is Bryanna. I am 26 and live in San Jacinto, CA.
Jesse: Well, I'm currently 10 years old and I live in San Jacinto also. My name is Jesse-James.
Riot: My mom was a young mom, what was that like for you?
Bryanna: Well, being a young mom was scary, lonely, and hard. I was 15 years old and had to balance being a teenager and a mom at the same time. I wanted to enjoy teenager things like hang out with my friends and have no responsibilities, but had a tiny baby to raise. Overall, I would say that for me being a young mom was very lonely.
Anni: What do you like to do for fun? What makes you happy?
Jesse: I basically like to lay down to bed, because I like the blanket I have which is cuddly. I like playing games on my computer and running and hugging my stuffed animals.
Kirsten: What is Jesse James diagnosed with and when did you first start to notice? What was the diagnosing process like?
Bryanna: Jesse is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD combined type, and Unspecified Mood Disorder. I first suspected he possibly had autism when he was around 1 1/2 to 2 years old. He had forgotten a few of the words he did learn and would often hurt himself. He would hit himself or bang his head on the floor. Once I started seeing these signs and had people around me notice then I went ahead and contacted a doctor to start the diagnosing process. Jesse-James had to have his hearing tested to make sure he didn't have a hearing problem. He had to have a MRI of his brain because right before he was born I had a seizure so the doctors wanted to make sure nothing happened to him. He had to have his speech evaluated by a speech pathologist. Jesse-James was seen by and eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by a neurologist around age 3. I noticed his ADHD very soon after that. He has a ton of energy, way more than all other kids I have ever been around. The process for ADHD was fairly simple. A child psychologist spent a few hours with Jesse and had him complete tasks and answer certain questions. I had to fill out paperwork about behaviors I see in Jesse. The same child psychologist diagnosed him with Unspecified Mood Disorder. Because we have a family history of mood disorders and Jesse displayed certain behaviors the doctor concluded he is at risk for having a mood disorder.
Anni: What is autism?
Bryanna: Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder. In simpler terms it means Jesse and other people who have autism have brains that are wired differently. So because their brains are wired differently they have a hard time with things like socialization, behavior, and communication. Sometimes people with autism have a very hard time in social situations like reading body language or interacting with their peers. Sometimes people with autism are very sensitive to lights, textures, and sounds. It affects everyone with autism differently.
Riot: Have you ever experienced bullying or trouble learning in school?
Jesse: I don't think I had trouble being bullied. I don't have trouble learning in class especially for a kid like me.
Kirsten: How do you help Jesse James when he has a bad day? What do you do to try to prevent them? Is there a special diet, medication, or affirmations you give him?
Bryanna: When Jesse has a bad day I like to ask him what I can do to make his day better. That usually involves Taco Bell, a soda, and some Netflix. The biggest prevention is sticking to a schedule and a routine. Most of the time a disruption in his routine means that his entire day is downhill. Changes in routine really upset him so even though I try and stick to routine, life happens. I have to calmly tell him that not everything is in our control and there will bumps in the road. Talking calmly doesn't always work so distraction and redirection help. So I'll say, "Hey Jesse wanna do_______?" or, "Jesse, tell me about ____.". As far as diet goes, Jesse used to be a very picky eater. He ate a total of 4 things! His palette has expanded but still limited. He recently started taking a nutritional supplement that is a super potent multivitamin specially designed for kids like Jesse on the spectrum. It seems to be a positive addition to his diet. Jesse also takes melatonin every night for sleep because sleeping is an issue for him. The melatonin works great so far. Sleep is so important for him because when he doesn't get enough rest, his mood changes for the worst. I like to remind him that I love him before dropping him off at school. That he is unique and a special person.
Anni: What is a mood disorder? What is ADHD?
Bryanna: A mood disorder effects your mood! So you can be really happy for a period of time and then really sad for period of time. Everyone can be happy or sad, but for someone with a mood disorder their happiness and sadness are extreme and random. ADHD is Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. When someone has ADHD they sometimes have attention deficits; meaning they have difficulty with the ability to focus. Other times they might be hyperactive meaning they have trouble being still. Sometimes people deal with both attention deficit and hyperactivity which is what Jesse has!
Naomi: Do you have a best friend? Are there people you feel safe talking to and being yourself around?
Jesse: Well, basically, no, I don't have a best friend. I just walk around all day. Yeah, I feel safe with my mom. There isn't anyone I feel like I can be myself around.
Kirsten: What things do you think you've gotten better at since first becoming a parent? What do you still struggle with?
Bryanna: I think after being a parent for 10 years, I have learned to have more patience. I feel like patience can be such a struggle as a parent and if you don't have enough patience then it can really affect your entire mood. I know this first hand because there are days where I feel like I have 0 patience, but I try and remind myself to R E L A X. One thing I feel I struggle with as a parent is being a helicopter parent! You know, the overbearing type of parent. My intentions are good, I want my child to be safe and protected. To be safe and protected he needs me, at least that's how I feel. His childhood and my childhood are completely different! At his age I had sleepovers with my friends. I can not imagine letting him sleep over at someone's house, that thought gives me anxiety.
Anni: Do you play Minecraft or Roblox? Can we be friends with you?
Jesse: It depends. Do you have Xbox Live? If you do, we can be friends on Xbox Live/Minecraft. Yes, you can be friends with me. My Xbox name is: [redacted]
Kirsten: What things would you want our readers to know about being a mother to such an awesome kid and BEING an awesome kid?
Bryanna: First, I want to say that I am very happy and fortunate to be Jesse's mom. Being a parent of a child with autism has been challenging and very rewarding at the same time. That doesn't mean that I haven't cried about it or worried about my child's future and success in this world. I cried when Jesse was first diagnosed with Autism. I had no idea what it was and thought that his life was over at age 3. I don't mean to sound dramatic either because I know it sounds like I reacted dramatically. I know all parents worry about their kid(s), but throw any diagnosis in the mix and your anxiety level goes up a million levels. You question every decision you ever made and worry about every future decision you're going to have to make. You know, being a parent is already a confusing and scary journey, but Jesse and his autism have really inspired me so much. His journey has made me look at life completely different and I appreciate the tiny things in life more than ever. Jesse really is inspiring and when people look at him I want them to see a smart, curious, and loving boy. I really hope people read this and ask questions because I want the whole world to be educated about Autism and every other neurodiverse person. The more people that are educated the better.
Jesse: Well, with me being different I basically hope I can just live with it. And I hope I can be one of the smartest people in the world.