Thursday, January 28, 2010

Our Story

There were all sorts of warning signs as my little boy began to grow from a baby to a toddler. Sometimes I’d worry; sometimes I’d hope for the best, but most of the time, I lived in denial. The problem with denial though is that every once in a while, you’re hit with situations that are too hard to ignore.

Our first wakeup call was when Andrew was about twenty months old. We took him to a birthday party. In attendance were several other children around the same age as him. The children were full of speech, and Andrew hadn’t spoken a word in several months. I had all sorts of explanations, but something seemed wrong when we saw Andrew's behavior in contrast to the other children's.

When child came near him, he wandered somewhere else where he could be by himself. When it was time to play pin the tail on the donkey, all the children were so excited and engaged. They each seemed to have a hard time waiting for their turn. But Andrew didn’t even seem to understand the point of the game, and had no interest in playing.  

The next activity was a treasure hunt. Most of the kids were giddy with excitement, running around the backyard in search for prizes.  Andrew was completely aloof. Instead of searching for treasure, he studied the perimeter of the yard, running along the fence and touching each board with his fingertips as he went.

Perhaps the most heart breaking moment at the party was when the moms wanted all the kids to line-up on the deck for a picture. I tried as hard as I could to get my little guy to sit down next to the other kids, look at the camera and smile.  He began to cry, wiggled out of my arms, and ran off to continue playing in his self-chosen world of isolation. The other moms watched, bewildered and perhaps full of their own conclusions but no one dared to say anything to me.  The picture was taken and Andrew wasn’t in it.

I began to feel guilty about working part time, thinking that I needed to spend more time with Andrew to help him improve. I decided to try harder. Every chance I got, I got down on the floor with my son and spent time with him, trying to find him, longing to make a connection.  If he was looking at a book, I'd try to reading it to him. He would put the book down and go grab a toy. I’d try to show him what the toy did, but he would cry. I’d try to make eye contact with him, and he would turn his whole body away from me.  These were the times where my prayers turned into cries of desperation.

Many months passed, and little by little the mystery of Andrew began to unfold. When he was two years old, Andrew began speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and had an early childhood educator visiting him regularly in our home. When he turned 3 years old, he began to attend a developmental preschool. We began to suspect that Andrew was somewhere on the Autism spectrum, but we thought that he had PDD-NOS, or even Aspergers Syndrome. We thought this because Andrew was clearly very smart in many different areas.

Andrew was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with Autism. Their full length, detailed and thorough report had brought to light that Andrew was facing more opposition than we had originally imagined. It also ended our long stage of denial. While I thought I was prepared for his diagnosis, I still went into shock.

A week later I had come to find myself in a state of numbness. My eyes glazed over, behind the wheel of a car, I was running the usual errands in town, because as much as I would have liked it to, life had not stopped for us. There I was at a stop sign, with my head full of self-coping thoughts as I put my foot on the gas. Awoken by the long, loud waling horn, I just came very close to a T-Bone Crash.

The innocent bystanders of the near collision were an older couple, fully capable of being sent into a heart attack by such an event. I could see the adrenal in their eyes. They’re faces quickly changed from being full of fear to being full of anger and disgust at me for sending them to such a place of panic.

I put the car in reverse to make room for them to pass but they weren’t done with me yet. My heart filled with despair, and my eyes welled up with tears as I saw their foul glares and rude gestures.  “I’m Sorry!” I said wholeheartedly. Not that they could hear me.

While I was doing all I could to keep myself together, that was the point where I could take no more. Tears began to come, and once they did, there was no stopping them. Of course first I was crying about upsetting the old couple, but truly I was crying in mourning and sadness.

And all of this led me to feel very alone. I was sobbing by myself in the car, and I couldn’t think of a single person who I could call that knew what I was going through.

So then I became angry. It was just me and my son against the world. We were misunderstood. We were misunderstood by churches, schools, restaurants, daycares, airports, hair salons, grocery stores, amusement parks, relatives, peers, even doctors and therapists.

One moment I’d feel Angry, and the next moment I would feel depressed, and a few minutes later I might feel complete numbness and denial all over again. And so on and on it went for a several months. I was going through the five stages of grief.

The Five Stages of Grief are:
1.       Denial
2.       Anger
3.       Bargaining
4.       Depression
5.       Acceptance

These stages don’t take place for a predetermined amount of time, and don’t always happen in the order they are listed. Sometimes a person can be at the bargaining stage, and then go back to denial. Even after completing all the stages, events can happen that can trigger these emotions all over again. An example would be going to visit your child at school and seeing how different he is from the other children. This can trigger more stages of grief, but the stages will probably run their course much more quickly than the first time around.

After arriving at the stage of acceptance, our lives began to change for the better, especially Andrew’s. Receiving the diagnosis was the most freeing for him. Mom and Dad now had a new empathy for the daily challenges he faced that he had been unable to communicate to us. And with the knowledge of his diagnosis also came an equipping and a support system.

We found ourselves accepting him much more than before. Not that we ever rejected him, but we had created unrealistic expectations for him. We wanted him to catch up with his peers and we had somehow expected him to do that all by himself. I think we really did hope that one day he would wake up and be different.

Slowly we began to take steps; educating ourselves more about Autism, learning about treatments, learning how to advocate for our little boy. We also continued to seek God’s word for answers. We gained perspective, and vision.

More than ever before we learned how to appreciate who Andrew was, and to love him where he was. I started to see my son smile more. I started to hear my son laugh more. That is where I found my joy.


Team Gibson said...


I loved finding and reading your post. It brings a different perspective to me as a parent and educator. Your writing is real - you speak the truth. I look forward to following your journey and keeping up with Andrew's successes. Could I pass along your blog information to other families? I think there are many parents who could relate to your story - Especially feeling alone. Thanks for sharing :)

Jenni Solla said...

I would absolutely love for you to share this with others! After all, That's why I'm writing. I'm hoping to create a community here where parents can gather and give and receive encouragement.

... And thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. It's certainly not easy writing about something so close to you, and then to put it out here on the internet, not knowing whether or not people read it or if they even find it helpful. :) Thanks a bunch!

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