I began my journey into the world of Autism about 6 years ago. I was beginning a new job with special needs children in the school system. There were a mix of disabilities in the room, but I quickly became attached to a very sweet little girl with Autism. She was non-verbal and just as playful as they came. I would spend my days caring for her, teaching her, working on social and play skills. Day after day, I would come to work and be a partner in the world for this child. And as time went on, I began to see the child INSIDE the Autism. We would have occasional eye contact, reactions to my voice, responding to my sign language. Her and I had begun to build a connection despite the Autism. (I say inside and despite because I feel the Autism was just a thing that had taken up residency in her mind. It wasn’t her. She was in there. She was aware, alert, receptive. Behind the Autism was a normal little girl just trying to find a crack to shine through and a person willing to pull her out. ) After a year in this amazing position I found myself pregnant. We were of course so happy to be adding a new baby to our family and just overjoyed to find out it would be our first (and only) son! The baby came, I returned to work and we watched our new child grow. He grew and developed well, we thought. And then the day came when it was gone. (You know, I believe that poem about being detoured to Holland hits this nail right on the head.) We no longer had the eye contact. No longer did he jump up when someone came in the room or you called his name. So we saved all our questions, all the things we were noticing and took him in for a well child check-up. I think I walked into, and out of quiet honestly, that appointment very numb. My first mistake was I went alone. My second was not picking up the hints our doctor tried so hard to drop. He asked questions like “Does he spin things?” and “Does he like to rock?”. Well, I knew from my years with my awesome school buddy just what that meant, but sitting in that moment as a mother I remember thinking “Well no! Why would he!?”. I left that appointment confused and holding a referral for Special Education testing. Testing? For my 2 year old?
I came home thinking nothing of this appointment. I’m telling you I was just numb about the whole situation. Detached may even be a better word for it. My mom called. Nanny was calling to check on her grandbabies and how his appointment had gone. I then retold the information. I said that questions that had been asked to me. I broke down in tears, and plenty of them. It was a moment of complete clarity. He thinks my child is autistic. How did I miss this? How did I not question more? What did I miss at home? What did I do wrong? There were so many things I had blindly missed. It was a whole new world. But how could that be? I mean, I worked it every day. I spent day after day, and at this point years, with this amazing autistic child at work. How could I not see those things, even in the most subtle way, in my son? Mom Guilt at its finest.
As a family we pulled it together. We got in his face (bless his heart!) and MADE him see us. We flickered lights to get his attention, yelled, banged on walls. Autism was NOT going to hide my son. We entered speech therapy and he received developmental services. I enrolled him in a community preschool with the support of his Special Education teacher. And I entered my job with a better vision. I knew that behind this fun little girl, who was hidden in the Autism, was a mother. There was her mother. A woman, just like me, that wanted nothing more than for her daughter to be found. I began to work as a Special Educator with a Mother’s mind.
A few years have passed and my son is blossoming. He speaks, calls us by name, responds to his, and even loves to crack jokes. He is a spunky, energetic 4 year old. I find myself now spotting the subtle signs and curbing them, giving him new “normal” habits. A few years have passed and the great student I formerly worked with has become an angel. She was here for an amazing 12 years . I learned so much from my time with her. She taught me all the great and wonderful ways to find the person INSIDE the Autism. She loved with no judgments. She showed me how Autism can be a houseguest, but not a person. She laughed and loved with a pure heart. And she left with me a lifetime of memories on how beautiful Autism can connect people, how hard Autism can make you work and how fantastic the outcomes can be. My Autism Angel has prepared and pushed me to have an AMAZING son, who happens to have a side case of Autism.
Happy World Autism Day to you and yours! Take the time today to wear some Blue, spread some awareness and enjoy (really enjoy) the amazing soul of your autistic child!