As a little girl, I dreamed about getting married. I never doubted that I wanted to meet Mr. Right, get married, and have ten kids. I pictured us living in a log cabin surrounded by woods in which to walk and explore. We would have a swimming pool in our yard–something I had growing up that really defined my childhood. We would have a wonderfully loving marriage, always supporting each other. I remember choosing names for my future children, writing the names on pieces of paper and slipping them into a plastic bank that I was unable to get into. I dreamed of the day I would get married and cut open the bank, using the money in there for a honeymoon to Hawaii and revealing the desired names for our future children. I just knew my future husband would love the names as much as I once did.
You know on cartoon shows when the character is dreaming and someone comes along and POPS the dream bubble? Yeah. That’s kind of what life did to me.
The only thing that came to fruition from the dreams above was that I did get married. We did not have a wonderfully loving marriage. We did not have a log cabin surrounded by woods or a swimming pool. We did not get a honeymoon in Hawaii. We do not have ten children. In fact, I would dare say that much of what has happened has been the direct opposite of my childhood dream. My marriage was rocky from the start. We argued a lot. My husband had an anger problem that seemed to grow larger each year. For a period of time we separated. I dove head first into deep depression on more than one occasion. I turned to alcohol and quickly became addicted. I tried to take my life. A pregnancy ended in the loss of our sweet baby girl. Financially we hit bottom more than once. We lost a house to foreclosure. We lost family to lies. We were blessed, though, with four gifts from God. (And one in heaven) I no longer remember the names I had written down as a little girl, but I’m certain that none of them match the names we gave our children.
When our first child was born, a boy, we thought we knew what we were doing. I had helped my mom countless times as she watched numerous babies over the years. Confidence was high that we would be good parents. The early days were a bit rough. I didn’t realize just how little babies sleep. That saying, “Sleeping like a baby”? Yeah. Whoever coined that one has never been the parent of a newborn human baby. Once settled into a schedule, though, things went smoothly. He was an easy baby–quiet and able to amuse himself. He would sit for hours on the floor with a bucket of things. One by one he would take things out of the bucket, and one by one he would return them to the bucket. My mom, more than once told me that I had better hope the next one was as easy as him. I suspected nothing to be wrong. I assumed, as my mom had said, I had gotten lucky with an easy baby.
Years ago, the word “autism” was not part of my vocabulary. I had never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. I majored in elementary education and had gone through some special education classes. None of them even brought up those two terms. As the years passed, though, it became more and more apparent that there was something different about this boy. While others in school had friends and interacted, our son sat and did puzzles alone or read a book. His teachers would say things like, “He is well behaved, BUT…” They were stumped as well. At home, it was a different story. The smallest thing would set him off and he would go into fits of rage. These were terrifying for him, for us and for his siblings. He would throw anything near him in the midst of these fits. He refused to do certain things that normal people find no issue with–like wearing jeans. He absolutely refused to wear denim jeans at all. He couldn’t eat certain textures. He couldn’t stand his hands sticky. It was finally in junior high that a teacher, someone I knew from soccer, encouraged me to get some professional testing done. The waiting list was almost a year. HIs name was added. The date came for him to be evaluated. And I was in disbelief when two professionals sat down with us and gave us the diagnosis. Our son was “labeled” with High Functioning Autism (HFA) with Asperger Syndrome tendencies. I had no idea what that meant and began to find books on the subject to educate myself. As I read, the light bulbs would click over and over. How did I miss the signs? How did I not see that he wasn’t just shy or that the rage that was displayed was not just a normal part of growing up and not always getting your way?
My son is now a young man. Somehow we survived some very trying times. In so many ways I feel as though I have failed him. I didn’t ask God for a son with special needs, yet a son with special needs is who God gave me. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade him for the world. I have watched him struggle to do things that so many others take for granted–learning to drive, getting a job, ordering a pizza even! He has learned to almost be independent. He has a nice, yellow sporty looking car that he makes payments on. He has a full time job. He even applied for a promotion this year. He was turned down the first time. He applied again and was granted the promotion.
My son is a gift from God. I probably wouldn’t have chosen such a gift if given the choice. After all, don’t we all tend to choose good and perfect things? No one goes into the grocery store and searches the produce for old bananas, yet those are the ones that hold the sweetest taste. Children tend to pass up friendship with those who aren’t just like themselves. It’s a shame because they have no idea the joys and life lessons they are missing out on. Through my son I have learned acceptance, unconditional love, forgiveness, and patience. Okay, I still have a long way to go on the last one, but I can honestly say that I am more patient now than I was twenty-four years ago when a seven pound, eleven ounce baby boy was placed in my arms for the first time. I thanked God for him then, and I thank God for him now.
Why do I write all of this?
If one does not have experience raising/living with a special needs offspring, there is absolutely NO WAY one can understand the challenges that brings. You will not understand how my heart breaks when I sit in church and see a large group of young adults all sitting together while my son sits with his mom and dad. You cannot understand how our plans always need to consider the impact on our son–even though he is an adult. You cannot understand the angst in wondering if you are doing too much as a parent and stifling independence–or if you aren’t doing enough and stifling independence. In contrast, though, you probably can’t understand the joy it brings to see him accomplish something that may have been very difficult for him to even attempt. You may not understand the pride that comes with seeing him start to take steps to complete independence. They are small steps for sure, but they are steps in the right direction. If you know someone who is the parent of one of these exceptional children, cut them some slack sometimes. Don’t expect that their lives will parallel those of parents whose children all take off and fly when the time expected by society comes for that to happen. Above all, know that each of us is created by a God who proclaims that His creation is good. There are no accidents in God’s plan. His plan unfolds differently for different people. It is what makes us unique. If we were all the same, life would be pretty boring.
I love my son and count him among my greatest blessings…even if that blessing seemed to be disguised for a while.