Three years ago, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. Later, I learned that the baby would be a boy – my first son! I was ecstatic, and immediately my head filled with dreams of being a football mom, cheering my son on from the sidelines. I couldn’t wait to watch him grow into a man who would eventually marry, and maybe become a doctor. I had so many hopes for who he would be, and what he would be like.
Every one of those dreams changed when he was 16 months old. I remember the look on the doctor’s face when we discussed my son’s behavior. I didn’t understand yet. I simply thought he was taking his time, and his delays were not a big deal. On that day, I entered a world that I never even knew existed: the world of Autism.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in a highly rural area, but I knew nothing about Autism a year ago. I had no idea what this would mean for us, but we started talking with his doctor and therapists to learn more. He now has 4 therapists, and at 2 years old has the most busy schedule of anyone in the family. Nearly every morning, we are up early preparing for therapy. Any time off, any trips out of town, are at the expense of my son’s learning.
I don’t dream about careers and sports anymore. I dream of the day that he will be able to communicate with me. I dream that he will someday speak. Not just communicate through sign language or pictures, but with his actual voice. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I dream of it just the same. I don’t teach him to dribble or catch a baseball. Instead I spend my days teaching him to do tasks that my oldest had mastered long before without me ever thinking twice about it.
As for leaving the house, I usually don’t. A little family outing is more difficult than I ever could have imagined. It will typically go one of two ways:
- I am able to keep him entertained with his iPad and some snacks. He probably won’t engage in what we are doing, but he will watch his show silently and rock in his chair. This will draw some looks from strangers frowning at the iPad use, or the “odd” rocking, but in general we don’t make much of a spectacle.
- He rejects these methods, and a tantrum happens. When people see a big 2.5 year old kicking, screaming, and throwing things, they will stare. I understand the staring, but the disapproving looks and whispers are hard to bear. They assume that I don’t discipline my child, and I get why. I used to be the same way. Now I have to apologize to people on planes when he kicks their seat the entire flight, or when he reaches out in a restaurant and grabs someone’s hair. I pray for their patience, and my own.
I know I sound negative. It can sound a little bleak when I write it all out, but I promise you I am not unhappy. I used to hope that my son would go to a great school, get married, and achieve financial success. I don’t know if he will do those things or not. I hope he will. But my priorities have changed. Now I see him – all of him. And I love who he is. He is kind and good, and what more could I possibly ask for in a son? As long as he knows that he is loved and supported, I can accept any outcome. Our life is exhausting, confusing, sometimes heartbreaking, and always complicated. But this is my life, and he is my son, and I love both. So, I smile.
If you are reading this and have not experienced this struggle personally, I only ask that you be kind. When you see a fellow mother interacting with her child in a way you don’t understand or agree with, don’t judge her. Instead try offering your help. There have been many times that I could’ve used help with my other two kids while my son had a meltdown. So give your fellow moms the benefit of the doubt. Because you never know what is going on behind the smile.