Our children are "just" themselves

When my oldest child, Quentin, was younger, we knew he was a little different. He was precocious, talked like an adult, and while he loved people, he didn't seem to have any sense of social graces. Since he was only about two, we didn't think too much of it. 

Sometime between ages 2 and 7, my husband and I came across a description of Asperger Syndrome, and it was like a lightbulb went off. "Ohhhh," we thought. "That explains so much about our kid." In what may be typical confirmation bias style, we continued to notice more and more about him that seemed to fit the AS profile. But it was never a big deal, just a way for us to understand him, and we didn't seek a diagnosis because we didn't need one. 

During his seventh year of life, we started to notice that his speech patterns (particularly a "reverse stutter" and halting speech) were starting to interfere in his ability to effectively communicate his thoughts. He seemed anxious, and was having trouble connecting to kids his own age, even though he desperately wanted friends. So we took him to the pediatrician, who referred us to a neurologist (to rule out seizures) and a psychologist (to evaluate for Aspergers or other psychological "disorders"). We came away with an entirely unsurprising diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. 

Never during this process did we use our suspicions or diagnosis of Quentin's differences to shame him or put a limiting box around him. Even before having him evaluated, knowing how parents with AS were handling some of the more challenging aspects of parenting kids on the spectrum helped us frame our interactions with Quentin in a healthier and more positive way. Once he received a diagnosis, we were able to enroll him in social group therapy which allowed him to begin to understand social expectations and develop skills that helped him form relationships. When we enrolled him in school, his diagnosis was the foundation of an individualized education plan that provided him further social training and tools to alleviate much of his anxiety around the environment.

In short, Quentin's diagnosis was a tool for us as his parents to understand him and his needs, so that we could in turn provide him with the tools he would need to be a functioning, happy person. He's been known to introduce himself to people by saying, "Hi! I'm Quentin. I have Asperger's!" with the same pride another child might say they'd just won a pony at the fair. Sometimes he even follows that up with, "I think I'm the next step in human evolution."

When I wrote earlier this week about our thoughts on my younger child's gender nonconformance, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Yet some people seemed concerned. Maybe we're pushing him into a box in which he doesn't belong. Maybe Jude is just Jude. After all, lots of boys like pink. Lots of boys like to wear long hair, or develop close relationships with male friends. 

Well, of course Jude is just Jude. But in the same way that "just Quentin" includes his Asperger's, "just Jude" includes gender nonconformity that may or may not turn out to be a long term part of his personality, that may or may not turn out to be a precursor to his being gay or transgender. I am not trying to put my kid into a box. I'm trying to understand him, so that I can be the best parent possible, so that I can shower him with love he can recognize no matter who he decides to be or love, so that he can grow up happy and secure. Knowing that there are words for this part of his personality (gender fluid, princess boy, pink boy, gender variant) helps me seek out other parents who have experience raising such children. It helps me Google, ok? :) 

And just like Quentin often treats his Asperger's as the gift it mostly is, Jude will often introduce himself to new people by asking, "Did you know I'm a girlboy?" He has no sense of shame in his explorations of personality and gender. And I'm going to do my best to keep it that way, which is what my previous post is all about.

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