Something amazing happened this weekend that I would love to share with you. I also think it is neat that this happened this month because April is Autism Awareness month and my 17 year old son, Taylor, has autism. He is the one I want to tell you about.
I wanted to share this because I want to give parents who may have just had their world rocked by that word Autism and give them something else. Hope.
I will admit it. I love to talk about my children (I have 3 boys). They are my world! Yes, I am about to brag, but this post is mostly about a prayer that was answered. One that I have been praying relentlessly for 15 years.
I will go ahead and warn you that this may be a long post. I also understand that you may not have a lot of time, we are all so busy, but I hope you stick around to read this. Pardon the history, but I do feel it is necessary to go back a few years to really explain this in the best possible way.
As a baby, Taylor was perfect. Absolutely PERFECT. He had the biggest, bluest eyes and was so pretty that most people thought he was a girl, in spite of the brown tractor shirt I would always put him in. He learned to walk at 10 months. He loved to give hugs and kisses and he was soooo curious, constantly into everything. ALL. THE. TIME.
It was around 18 months that it became apparent that he was no longer hitting those milestones. The biggest thing I noticed was that he wasn’t talking like his peers. I was mildly concerned but I also realized that toddlers develop at different stages. He was walking earlier than my other friends’ babies, so it stood to reason that they were just talking early.
I mentioned it to his pediatrician and he said “wait until he is two years old.” He didn’t seem concerned, so my mind was eased.
I started writing down every word Taylor said and kept it on the refrigerator. By the age of two, he had a total of 20 words, some of which he had said once and never again.
I knew this wasn’t right.
Again I asked the pediatrician and he said “wait until he is 2 ½ years old”. I did, although my mind was not eased. I KNEW something wasn’t right.
At 2 ½, he had a total of 24 words. Most of which only my husband and I could understand. NOW the pediatrician was concerned and he recommended speech therapy.
We immediately started speech therapy with Taylor twice a week. (FYI: the state provides these services for free and they will come to you!)
It was about 1 month into speech therapy that I asked his speech therapist a question that had been eating at me.
“Why can he repeat full sentences from his videos, but not put his own words together and make his own sentences?”
The result of this seemingly innocent question, turned our world upside down.
That day, all she did was tell us she wanted someone else to come see Taylor. A child psychologist. Yes. I was fairly alarmed.
A week later we were visited by this doctor. I remember specifically Taylor trying to get her attention the whole time he was there. He wanted to see what was in her bag and was using his words “can I have?” and she wasn’t listening to him. She was telling us about Autism.
I wasn’t concerned at all. Really! I knew what Autism was. It was that guy in Rain Man. YEAH. Taylor was NOTHING like that!
But a week later we got the report…Autism.
The floor fell away from my feet and I couldn’t breath and then I cried. And I cried. And I cried some more.
But after a few days a switch turned on in me. I actually felt a little relieved. I wasn’t crazy! After being ignored by his pediatrician for year it turned out I was right about Taylor being a little different. (We got a new pediatrician) I still knew nothing about Autism but now I had something I could research. I could fix this, right? I made a plan and I went into action.
Remember, this was 15 years ago. There was no Google. No support groups to speak of. All I had was a few magazines and a brand new “information highway”. It took time but it gave me a purpose. It gave me a goal.
I was going to help my son.
My husband and I continued him in speech therapy and added Occupational therapy to his day. When he was three years old, we placed him in early intervention in the local school system.
Every year he made progress but every year I kept waiting for someone to tell me that there was cure.
I will be honest, those first years were an emotional roller coaster for me. Every 6 months or so, I would dive into a huge depression.
Why him? He did nothing to anyone. This beautiful, innocent child.
I would get angry at God. Why would God allow this to happen to this child? Look at all Taylor was missing out on.
While my friends were taking their children to t-ball, we were going to speech therapy.
While my friends were telling me all the funny stuff their children would say, I was waiting to tell them how he finally called me “Mommy”.
While my friends children were have sleep overs, we were sitting in hyperbaric chambers.
I didn’t have many things in common with my friends anymore. My circle became extremely small. I felt that no one could relate to me. No one knew what it was like. I felt very alone.
It was during one these really low days that my best friend, Cindy, set me straight.
We had just left a bible study that we were attending together. It was about how God wants what is best for us. If we live for him, he will always take care of us.
It made me angry. I remember her looking at me very carefully as we left the church. She knew what was going through my head. She took me to lunch so we could talk and once again, my life was changed.
Without even asking me what I thought, she told exactly what I was thinking.
“God is not punishing Taylor and He is most certainly NOT punishing you for anything in your past. He is not!”
She said, “I know you feel like Taylor is missing out, but he is one of the happiest children I know! Taylor is fine! YOU are the one that is missing out. (Ouch!)
Then she said, “BUT look at what you have that we other parents don’t!”
“Taylor is my angel,” she said. “He makes me laugh every single day. He has taught me to appreciate all the things we come to take for granted.”
Then she said, “Look at all the lives he has touched. How can God not be in that?!”
To this day I don’t think I can ever express how much I loved my friend as I did at that moment.
My whole perspective changed. I admit, I still mourn for those milestones that we as parents just expect to happen.
I still go through my mourning every now and then but it’s much more rare. The most recent I can remember is when he turned 16. He didn’t get that driver’s license and I didn’t get to post a photo on Facebook warning everyone that “Taylor is on the road! Look out!” But I got over it because I know I will have that moment one day.
But there was one milestone that I wished and prayed for him since I first took him to social therapy in the 3rd grade.
His first day at the Montevallo Speech and Hearing Center, Professor Murdock asked me what my goals were for him.
“My goals?” I kind of laughed. “They may not be what you are expecting Professor Murdock but here they are. I want to have a back and forth conversation with him one day. I want him to have a best friend. I want him to have a first kiss. I want him to go to prom. I want him to get married one day. I want him to have a job. I would rather him work at a gas station and have a family than be a surgeon unable to have to friends. THOSE are my goals for him”
Let me tell you that at 17 years old, I have a back and forth conversation with him regularly, albeit something that he wants to talk about. He is mainstreamed into his classes and has been from the beginning.
From what one of his teachers told me, he had his first kiss in 9th grade under the bleachers during P.E. (He still can’t figure out how I found out about that one!)
And the biggest so far…PROM.
This Friday night, Taylor went to his Jr. Prom with his friend Allibeth, one of the most beautiful girls I know. They have been friends since they were toddlers and Taylor told me that she is his “best friend”. (another goal I had for him.)
Allibeth gets him. It seems that she always has. When they were little, she could play with him when other kids didn’t know how to. She has never been embarrassed by him. She never ignores him. She loves to talk with him on the phone and now text with him. (He loves to talk about movies)
My child going to the prom had at one time in my life been something that I just expected to happen, but it became something so much more significant to me.
I still don’t feel like I have been able to express my feelings about that night as well as I wanted to. It is hard sometimes to put a feeling into a word or words, but what I saw Friday night was a prayer answered, a mom and dad that were moved to tears, a 17 year old that had the best time and young lady who has the most beautiful spirit about her.
My final word is for those parents who have children with special needs. I know there are hard days (or even weeks) but even on those days look for the blessing and know that you are not all alone.
These children are our angels. I truly believe that.