By Rosie Preston
Earlier this week I called my husband Phil and asked him to please pick up the table at the end of our street. He laughed and said, “I knew you were going to ask me to do that! What are your plans for it?”
I answered, “I’m going to paint it for Joseph’s porch to display the plants that I gave him.”
I consider my son Joseph, who is now 45 years old, both my miracle child and soul mate. He is quiet, shy, loyal, honest and true, and I love him dearly. He and I have a special relationship, and I’m the “person” who understands him best in the world.
When Joseph was born, his sister Rachel was two years old. He was average birth weight of over seven pounds. As time went by, however, Joseph would suffer from mini seizures, which were scary but did not last long. His eyes would glaze over and I would shake my hand in front of him until it was over. He didn’t much of an appetite and did not gain enough weight. I remember my dad constantly telling me that I didn’t feed him enough. Looking back, I can see myself always having a spoon ready to offer Joseph a couple of bites.
At that time, we lived in Scottsboro, where a new pediatrician eventually opened a clinic. He helped me to stop worrying about Joseph’s weight and growth by telling me, “Your son is filled out and his weight is equal to the size of his frame.”
Even at a young age, Joseph was only comfortable communicating with certain people. When he was two years old, I went to work and put him in a day care center, where started to make friends. How could I ever forget the days when he was around age 4 and kept asking me, “When am I going to get dark?” It took me a few weeks to figure out this question and ask him why. “Well, my best friend at school is dark and I want to be like him so I can go to his house to play with him,” he said. He was talking about a little boy who was African American.
I bent down and hugged him and said, “You have a darker skin now because you have a suntan. You will never be as dark as your friend, but you can play with him after I make plans with his mother.”
Joseph was very smart but did not draw attention in school from his teachers, so it took several years before he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a lifetime situation that will always be present. Thankfully, I had a good friend who told me, “Do not treat him any differently than you would your daughter. Do work with him on a daily basis and help him to learn using different methods.”
Joseph’s present diagnosis is that he is always going to be a quiet and shy person around most people, but he is now considered on the spectrum of being high functioning. He is meticulous in his work ethic and has worked at jobs wherein he did not interact with the public. He is very smart, even though many times his quietness is taken the wrong way by people who may not understand him.
The Mama Bear has come out in me if Joseph is bullied. I won’t accept that kind of behavior. Joseph used to work at a large retail store as a cart pusher. It was the perfect type of job for him, and he worked there for almost six years. But eventually another store employee started to bully him. When the store managers did not act accordingly, I visited the store one day when the employee was laughing and growling at my son.
I put on my large beach hat, sunglasses and a long raincoat and found the employee at the front of the store. I did not yell or swear at him, but I got in his face and told him that he’d better back off. I think I scared the poor guy, because his eyes got big and his mouth fell open. He never bullied my son again. I’m sure that I’m on camera when that is training new employees who may have to deal with someone like me!
It’s amazing to find out how people with a certain type of disability are often treated. There are many different situations that have happened in my son’s life that I can write about at a later time, but I decided to write about this one because many parents have experienced similar situations.
Joseph has a beautiful daughter named Breanna, and they are very close. She has told me many times, “Nana, you know I love you and Papa, but I love my daddy best in the world!”
Keep smiling, Rosie
Rosie Preston may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.