Women Who Have Walked My Son into the World

So I have to give credit where credit is due. I don’t have this healthy, brilliant outlook on autism and life in general based on the heaven-sent inspiration that pours through the windows of our suburban split-level every morning. Rather, it is the result of the support, insight, and experience of trained professionals. C. J.’s many therapists and teachers have all made what might have been a seemingly destructive diagnosis not as intimidating as it first appeared.

Looking back about one and a half years, I recall initially feeling shell shocked when EI evaluators suggested that we pump our son up on a combination of speech, occupational, and developmental therapies. I couldn’t imagine—or admit—that he needed that much assistance. As a result, accepting the wisdom of the exceptional therapists who came to our house starting in November 2008 was at first a hard pill for me to swallow.

I couldn’t believe that they knew C. J. as well as I did. Nor was it easy to watch him resist their efforts, sometimes kicking and screaming when they asked him to do something as simple as putting blocks in a container. What was even more difficult, however, was grappling with the realization that these intelligent and compassionate women sensed that C. J. required more aid than I was then willing to acknowledge he needed. Over time, however, their skill and experience helped me see the proverbial light that shines on those children who are diagnosed as being on the spectrum. They never gave up on my son, and so I learned that I shouldn’t either. With their guidance, I began to understand that C. J. had not been handed a death sentence.

They started opening doors for him that now continue to swing wider with each passing day. When he started working with EI therapists, he couldn’t even put pennies in a bank without pitching a fit that would have frightened most Catholic priests trained in the rite of exorcism. A little less than a year later, he was laughing and smiling as he matched shapes and named colors.

These ladies saw me at my absolute worst—waddling around my house in an advanced state of pregnancy, constantly looking browbeaten and occasionally spurting tears or snapping at my daughter to keep quiet during therapy sessions. I experienced some of the rawest emotions I have ever been forced to cope with in the ten months they visited my home. Their patience with everyone in our family and their sincere desire to help us comprehend and come to terms with his autism diagnosis were among the main factors that prevented us from falling apart.

Thankfully, the same can be said for the staff at the special-education preschool that C. J. currently attends. As September 2009 approached, I dreaded an end to in-home therapy and the onset of my baby boy being shipped off to school. Prior to his first day at Madison Early Childhood Center, I was wracked with a sense of losing control. I would no longer be there to hold C. J.’s hand or dry his tears. And, unlike when my daughter started preschool, I shuddered at the notion of my three-year-old throwing uncontrollable tantrums in public and being surrounded by people who might not be able to immediately second-guess his needs and wants.

Within a few weeks, however, I gradually began to accept that the goal was not to have others adjust to C. J., but to help him adapt to the world around him. One day, my husband and I will no longer be here. I have very few ways of guaranteeing that, when that moment arrives, my son will be sheltered in a comfortable little box where only men and women who can read his mind will feed, clothe, and support him. Nor is that what I truly want for my middle child.

It is my ambition that, regardless of whether he every fully overcomes his speech impairments or sensory issues, C. J. will learn how to effectively communicate and cope. And that is precisely what the teachers, therapists, and aides at Madison are showing him how to do. More to the point, he loves being in a classroom with other children, riding the bus five days a week, and demonstrating the many ways he is growing and changing for the better.

I recently gave a bit of added thought to a line I heard on the NBC show Parenthood, which features a couple trying to deal with their middle-schooler’s autism diagnosis. A developmental expert on the program instructs the mom and dad in question to work toward “walking their son into the world.” For families tackling news of an autism spectrum disorder, it is far too easy to hide their child or back peddle him into a false safety net of denial, ignorance, fear, and defeat. From my humble perspective and personal experience, it is C. J.’s therapists and teachers who have most tightly held his hand as he ventures into the world of wonderful possibilities that inevitably await him.


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