In the military they have a program called the Buddy System. Essentially what this benefit does, is it allows friends to enlist together guaranteeing they go through basic training together and also get to be assigned to the same duty location for their first base (https://www.goarmy.com/benefits/additional-incentives/buddy-team.html).
I know all about this because once upon a time my sister, cousin and I were going to join the military and this was our biggest incentive, to be able to do it together.
We knew how difficult basic training could be. How lonely and home sick airmen get, how hard it is at a first duty location where you don’t know anyone and are so far from home. And how much more tolerable those difficult times would be having someone to lean on and empathize with exactly what you’re going through.
Autism has been that way for me as well.
My husband has absolutely, without a doubt, been my “buddy” in this autism assignment. There is a lot to be said in the special needs community about how devastating having a special needs child can be on your marriage. And while I don’t dispute that, it really has had the opposite effect for us. And maybe that is because we are all we have when it comes to our kids. But autism has literally been the glue that has kept us together through the many storms we have faced in our marriage.
We have both grieved and experienced autism differently, but we have each other’s back in a very seamless way. We just go into autopilot mode with the kids, where with others, you have to do a lot of explaining or telling them exactly how they can help, which is not the most convenient thing to do in the middle of a meltdown in a grocery store or mall.
Story time. My husband had been gone to Korea for 6 months and I had been the lone ranger taking care of the kids on my own and then he came home for his mid-tour (this is where he gets to come home for a month break and then returns to Korea for another 6 months). Well my husband decided he wanted to take the kids to Toysrus to let them each pick out a toy. So we pull up to the store, park and begin approaching the door when we discover that it’s closed and doesn’t open for another 15 minutes.
Oh goodness! I can detect an autism meltdown on my radar in the forseeable future.
It was calm now, but I knew it was coming.
My husband, being the go with the flow, calm and collected counterpart says he’s going to go to the dollar store, which was right next door, to get something to drink. He takes our youngest Jeremiah with him. So I’m left with my 2 boys with autism, both pulling me to the door, not understanding that it’s locked.
My oldest, Keith III was calm for the present moment. I found myself repeating the same statement gently, over and over again “It’s not open yet, we have to wait.” Keith III accepted this, while my middle, Spencer did not. He wanted in and he wanted in NOW.
Spencer kept pulling my hand to the door for me to open it. He was visibly getting more upset and impatient. I get it, this was the ultimate treat (and also somewhere I’d never take them by myself) and he could not wait any longer. So even though Spencer is beginning to escalate, I’m still calm, until…………another family pulls up and starts walking toward the store. Then I begin to get anxious. Spencer throws himself down on the ground and begins looking for something to throw. He finds some leaves. The family is beginning to stare at us, which increases my own anxiety, so I make the executive decision that we are exiting and heading for the car. Without warning (not my smartest move), I take Keith III and Spencer both by the hand and say “we’re going to the car.”
Keith III, who has been relatively calm throughout this whole ordeal begins to scream, yell and stomp. He then proceeds to bite me on the arm, as Spencer drops his 50+ pound body on the ground in the middle of the street and refuses to get up. I have Keith III with one hand and trying to pick up Spencer with the other all while in the middle of the road.
Out of nowhere, like a Knight in Shining Armor, my husband appears, swoops in and picks Spencer up with one of his muscle ripped arms and places him on his feet and walks him to the car.
I was disoriented in a good way. Just like that, he came in and saved the day.
I didn’t have to call him or yell for help, he was right there, at the right time and knew exactly what to do.
I was so overwhelmed by it that I teared up when we got to the car, because the reality of what I had been missing the last 6 months was smacking me in the face. I had been dealing with every crisis and moment of chaos alone, that I forgot what it was like to have help, more than help, a buddy. A partner for everything. I often say that I don’t fully understand and know why our children have autism and why we have to struggle in the ways we do, but I do know that God has more than prepared me for the battles that I would face. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the greatest tool He gave me was my husband.