“Mommy run, giganotosaurus is going to eat you!” My youngest grabs my hand, and pulls me toward his intended refuge. After traipsing through a few feet of mud, and trying to avoid trampling the premature daffodils poking their way through musty loam, we reach our destination. My son and I crouch down behind the miniature replica of our house that its previous owners built for their daughter (the one that now houses all our pool paraphernalia), and clutch each other in “terror”.
“Do you think he saw us Mom?” Zach asks breathlessly, and I smile at him and respond, “Nope, I think he’s too busy trying to eat that brontosaurus”. I watch him battle a great internal conflict- stay safe in Mommy’s arms, or take a sneak peak at imagined carnage around the corner. Eventually, the sneak peek wins.
So much for the books, web sites, and professionals who told his autism diagnosis would most likely entail a limited imagination.
Truth be told, our youngest son has made incredible progress toward what I like to call a “typical untypical life”. Four years ago this fall his parents watched as our joyful, inquisitive toddler was rendered almost mute following a nasty virus that lingered with him for weeks, seemingly robbing him of his personality, and all but three words (Ma, Da, and ball). In the span of one presidential term (and thousands of hours of school and therapy), we’ve been fortunate enough to see the return of his personality (albeit with the addition of a fairly cantankerous side).
His family, therapists and educators have also witnessed a veritable river of words and queries. His blossoming desire for friendship (and one day, a wife and five children) has been a joy for me to fulfill (at least the first part). Perhaps most gratifying has been watching his sweet side return to the forefront, as when we see him attempt to make his brother feel better, or when he tells me he loves me “more than dinosaurs, Transformers, and Thomas together”.
Of course, two hours later when I denied him access to television, he also informed me he wanted to be adopted.
There have been so many surprises with both boys along the way. My oldest child, who is moderately autistic and non-vocal, spent most of his early days either enmeshed in a tantrum or seemingly plotting the next one. He communicated primarily by pinching us, even though we worked with him for hours and hours on a daily basis to afford him a different way in which to get his needs met.
Through therapy, discipline, and perhaps most importantly, Justin’s inherent desire to achieve peace, he eventually shed his seemingly impenetrable armor of unhappiness, revealing the mostly ebullient child he is today. Of course, often with autism moods and behaviors are cyclical, and we have our setbacks. Despite these departures from peace however he remains affectionate, connected, and loving toward those who make the effort to know him.
This is the child who runs over and kisses me if I stub my toe and say “Ow!”. This is the little boy who recently was the only one in his class to greet the return of his teacher post-workshop with a mighty hug and eye contact, indicating he might never let her go. This is the son who places his hands on my face a half dozen times a day and pulls me down for a kiss, coupled with an intense gaze I never conceive of breaking. This is a child for whom love is a given.
Yet another surprise from much of what we read and were told eight years ago.
I think often of the adage “life is full of surprises”, one of those annoying idioms I’ve found to be true. My children defy my expectations daily, destroying my preconceptions of what autism would entail for our family with their affectionate natures, and frequent desires for connection to our world.
That said, I won’t ever imply that we haven’t struggled despite their progress. There have been days (and frankly months) where me and my husband thought we might not make it through what seemed the hopelessness of our situation, that we worried we might never recover the joy that was once so prominent in our home.
But throughout the difficult and sometimes agonizing times, we’ve always held onto that elusive thread of hope. For anyone out there whose child has just been diagnosed, I hope that somehow you are able to retain that glimmer of promise, perhaps sequester it away until it can be realized. For me, just knowing hope was waiting in the wings, patiently stored there for when I was ready to believe in its possibility once again, was great solace in and of itself.
And from the mom of two on the autism spectrum, if it’s within your grasp, try to keep yourself open to the possibility of a positive surprise.