My daughter was eight years old when my first son was born. I was anxious, like every mother, wondering how this little blessing would fit into our busy lives. Also, because it had been so long since my daughter was an infant, I worried that I wouldn’t know what to do with a new baby. Was it possible to forget how to be a mom in eight years?
There were numerous differences between my children from the beginning. My son was much fussier than my daughter had been; he had night terrors, sensory issues and recurring fits of what seemed to be inexplicable rage. I tried to explain it all away–he had a difficult delivery, jaundice, hernia surgery at nine months, croup . . . . I tried to convince myself that what I was seeing was the difference between boys and girls (there is a difference, right?) or just innate differences between people and personalities; but no matter how I tried to account for the dissimilarities between my children, in my heart, I knew that something was fundamentally different with my son.
When my first son was eighteen months old my second son was born. Again, I was anxious, and again I found that this new little one was nothing like my other two. He was quiet, and seemed content most often to observe and exist. I was thankful, because my hands were full with his big brother.
My older son developed language quickly, but he used language oddly. By the time he was two he could recite about thirty movies verbatim, and would frequently use lines out of movies to answer questions or comment on his surroundings. For instance, I would hear “There’s a snake in my boot” when there was a pebble in his shoe. My son developed his own words for common items and would try to educate us on the “correct” name for these objects. I wish I could remember these names now, but I can’t. He could read simple words, list the planets in their order from the sun and explain to us why an octagon was an octagon, but he couldn’t answer the question “What is your name?”
I sheepishly inquired with the physician about some of my son’s functional language delays. I wasn’t pushy or insistent–I didn’t want to appear uneducated or like that mother that didn’t read the What to Expect series. I was told that there as a range of normal development in children, but that did nothing to suppress my fears.
One day, I remember dropping my sons off at daycare. My younger son sat silently while I studied my older son watching the other children play. I cannot explain why, but as I watched him, I knew that he wanted to play with the other children, but didn’t know how. I wept, not knowing how to help him.
I skipped school that day and called in to work. I spent the day searching the internet for descriptions of the behavior I was witnessing in my son. After hours of reading and completing self-diagnostic tests, all of which clearly indicated that what I was seeing was not normal development, I was scared and heartsick. No one wants to believe that there is something wrong with their child, but at least now I had something to go on.
From there, I made a series of phone calls; we started the process of evaluation, weekly speech therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction–and then finally a diagnosis. By the time the diagnosis came, it was not a surprise; in fact, it was a relief. It was proof that I was not crazy and had not been overreacting–my fears and concerns had been legitimate.
I have two sons on the spectrum, and both are affected in very different ways. My older son has social difficulties and anxiety–he is verbal, expresses himself eloquently and perceives the world in a very different way than I do. My younger son was nonverbal until he was about five years old. He loves spinning and bumping into things, and he frequently flaps his arms with delight, but surprisingly, in spite of his lack of speech, my younger son interacts with his peers beautifully.
I love being a mom, it is my favorite thing–the fact that two of my children have autism has done nothing to suppress my enthusiasm for motherhood. Of course I worry about them and I hate to see them struggle. I worry about how other kids will react to them. I wonder if they will be teased or accepted–but I can tell you from experience, as a parent, you worry about those things with a typically developing child too.
My boys have blessed my life in more ways than I could ever have imagined. My eldest son speaks in poetry. He tells me about the smell of the leaves in the autumn and the beauty of the curve of a tree branch. He weeps because he is so happy to see the ants hard at work. My son sees details of things that I am either too busy or not observant enough to notice. When I am lucky, he shares these nuggets with me and tells me to turn at the building with the bricks that are speckled like a bird’s egg.
My younger son has a smile that is infectious. He is joyful, fiercely independent and stubbornly determined to accomplish whatever goal is set before him. As my son’s speech develops, I am starting to understand that he has been watching and learning from us all along. Where my eldest sees complexities, my younger sees simplicity; he cherishes every moment and every truck that passes by.
We have been blessed by therapists and educators who have loved our sons as if they were their own–many of whom remain good friends to this day. They trusted my intuition and I learned to trust their expertise, even when that meant sitting in another room with tears streaming down my face, listening to my son howl with indignation as his therapist attempted, hand over hand, to get him to place a block in a shape sorter.
When I think about how my sons have touched my life, I can’t help but remember my dear friend’s reaction to the news that my sons have autism. “Oh Jess, I am so sorry,” she said. Hearing that, I could not help but be a little offended, even though I knew it was well intended.
I realized that I am not sorry. Thanks to my sons, I have seen things I never would have taken the time to see; I have had the opportunity to perceive the world in a way that is very different from what I had believed it to be. My sons have shown me beauty in things I thought were ugly, and joy in what I believed to be ordinary. Through them, I have learned so much more about the richness and the depth of what this life has to offer, and that is nothing to be sorry for. It is a gift; it is a blessing.
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