I think that finding that bright spark in my life has been very hard for me to grasp lately. This week my oldest son D was accepted into a highly competitive academic program in the high school he will attend in the fall. I am a very proud mama and I have a good reason to be.
D was diagnosed with high functioning Autism at the age of 5 and at the time, he was basically almost non -verbal, extremely behind on academics, and showed no interest in socializing with his peers. As soon as we found out his DX, the school placed him in a special education self contained classroom with a multitude of therapists and teachers to help him. All expectations and hopes I had for him before the DX were dashed away and I honestly just wanted one thing for him : for him to be happy. I did mourn for a while for “the child” that I had lost and this did blind me for a while. He was now a child whose future was quite uncertain, a child who most likely would rely on me for the rest of my life, and a child who would not graduate from high and certainly not go on to college. It was an inner conflict within myself and I felt shitty enough not being the best mother to him considering I had him at the age of 17. I was overwhelmed and felt guilty for being so ignorant and young at the time all of this was happening that I also blamed myself for his DX for a long time. I had already felt like my poor child had so many obstacles stacked against him when he was born into a family with no father and an immature single teen mom, now this, Autism. Sigh.
So how did I tackle this: I educated myself.I read a ton of books- a year before his DX and continued to read the books and articles after. I had to learn to advocate for him and keep in constant contact with his therapists and teachers. I was that mom and continue to be that mom that teachers dread with my emails about what might seem minor questions and issues. The most important thing I did was: I had to learn to believe in him and his potential. I had to believe that my little boy would one day learn how read, do simple math, verbally tell me he had to use the bathroom (instead of grunting and stomping his feet), and just really talk to me instead of giving me two word responses and phrases. At the beginning of the journey, I told myself, that if he could just do those simple things, we would be okay and if he didn’t , then I would have to accept it and love him no matter what.
So with the support and help of family, therapists, and teachers, D just really blossomed throughout the years. The first 3 years were tough. I felt like we would finally reach him and we would finally get him to a point that he was functioning well,then something would happen and he would regress. Excuse the cliche but it was truly, one small step forward, and two huge steps backward. To say that it was frustrating would be an understatement. To be honest, I wanted to give up sometimes but I didn’t.
I always remember the day that I knew I could have expectations of him having a semi-normal life and it took his special education teacher to show me. It was during an IEP meeting for third grade and it hadn’t been a particularly good year for him but she turned to me and said, “You know, one day in the near future, it will just all click for him” . And sure enough, the following year, he really blossomed. It was all about these incredibly miniscule steps that built up over time.Eventually he went from his special education classroom in Kindergarten to a co taught classroom in fourth grade to advance/regular classes in Seventh grade. He went from several therapists and resource personnel to just a case manager on a monthly consult basis. His IEP went from 30 pages long focused on basic communication/academics to just a 3 pages long that focus mainly on socialization and independence.