Many times throughout your childhood, you cried, screamed and made it clear that you were not happy with me. My whole body ached with the pain and my mind churned with the uncertainty of what I was doing at the time.
Was I doing what was best for you? Would you be forever scarred by my pushing, encouragement, persistence and determination to help you grow, cope and be challenged?
I didn’t have those answers, but my gut told me to persist in pushing and encouraging you a little bit at a time. It warned me that if I rescued you from struggle that you would not grow to be the person you could be. Your autism would swallow you whole and leave you isolated, helpless and trapped.
Throughout your childhood, dad and I deliberately put you into situations that were uncomfortable for you: Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, speech therapy, school, dance, bowling, Boy Scouts, swimming, T ball – the list goes on. Of course, you had incredible support at all times from the people and individualized resources put into place to scaffold your experience and learning. But, ultimately, each activity was not what you would choose to do. Your preference was to be constantly at home, watching videos or engrossed in the things that brought you comfort and joy.
Parenting a child with autism is like navigating a winding path in the woods at night – each step is taken without certainty of sure footing. The path is dark at times – overwhelming and scary. Your dad and I relied on faith, love and determination to lead you into your future. So many times, I prayed for a bright sign that would tell me exactly what we should do – and not do. But, there were no answers spelled out for us. We learned to lean on those who knew autism well. We had to learn to trust others as we took each step.
So many times I fought the urge to just hold you, pull you close and tell you that you could just skip anything that upset you or challenged you. The pain of watching you struggle with new skills, unnerving situations, and social relationships was heartbreaking at times. But, then the joy of witnessing your growth and success fueled our determination to love you enough to maintain high expectations. Autism would not steal the real you.
Twenty- one years have passed my boy. Dad and I have watched you navigate the biggest step of your life so far – studying for a semester in another country on another continent. I can tell you now that the day we brought you to the airport was by far the most gut wrenching of all. Your eyes exposed your anxiety and you asked me if we thought this was the right thing for you to do. I yearned to tell you to stay home. But, I knew that to do so was more about me, and my comfort than your needs. You were ready for this next step. It would not be easy and you would stumble at times, but, we knew that you had the grit and resilience to get back up when you did.
“I yearned to tell you to stay home. But, I knew that to do so was more about me, and my comfort than your needs.”
And so, I put on my bravest most convincing act of all time, and answered, “Yes, it is time for you to go. This is your time.”
You had dreamed of this adventure for years. You had nurtured your passions and interests for decades. You had done the work and overcame the obstacles to learn the skills you would need in Poland. This was the natural next step for you.
As you passed through the gate at airport security, out of my sight, I crumpled. No longer required to be strong for you, the tidal wave of emotion bowled me over. Every ounce of anxiety, fear and pain rushed from the depths of me. I felt as if a piece of me had been ripped from my heart.
Love is hard at times. It can physically hurt and it almost always means putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own. Loving a child with autism means encouraging that person to stretch beyond their comfort zone, discover what is possible and pursue their dreams even when it is uncomfortable for you and for them.
As a mom, I still live with anxiety, fear and uncertainty about my children’s safety and happiness, but, I know in my heart of hearts that I am a mother who will hold my children to expectations that they will be who they were created to be –whether they have autism or not. Autism has not stolen my child or taken away his ability to achieve his dreams.