Saturday night, I had a brief and unexpected Moment of Clarity. I never could have dreamed that I would get to this point when SB was diagnosed with autism back in November of 2006. You see, when SB was diagnosed, Charlie and I were crushed. The Developmental Pediatrician told me that she thought he may never speak and might be mentally retarded. (She is an idiot, and we don’t see her anymore. But that’s not what this post is about.) SB’s future was not only unwritten, but also pretty bleak.
In the first year or two after his diagnosis, if a pharmaceutical company had developed a pill to get rid of autism, I would have paid ANY amount of money for it. I would have sold my house, all my possessions, and my right arm to give that pill to my son. To make him different from what he was. To make him “normal.” I actually used to daydream about this very scenario.
Now fast-forward six years. The last six years have been hard, there’s no doubt. But each year gets a little bit easier. Not EASY, but easier. SB learned to speak, and has learned so many other things as well. He goes to school with all of the other kids his age from our neighborhood. He still needs support and still has some problem behaviors, but each year gets a little bit better. And more importantly, his amazing strengths are starting to shine, such as his perfect pitch, his unbelievable memory, his ability in spelling, his mature understanding of math, and his sense of direction. Also in those 6 years, his younger brother was diagnosed with autism as well. AB seems to be a “milder” version of his brother, if that makes any sense. His deficits are not as profound, but his strengths are not as extreme, either. However, he also is starting to show a good sense of direction, a capacity for memory, and an aptitude for spelling and math, which is great.
So far, this post has just been a summary of things I’ve already blogged about. It’s time for me to get to the Moment of Clarity I had on Saturday. The four of us were at the Capitol City Brewing Company in Arlington, Virginia having dinner with 5 other family members. It was busy and loud, and I was kind of neglecting my kids, letting them be as loud as they wanted (they are ALWAYS loud!) because I was really craving some adult conversation. But after a while, they refused to be ignored, so I began paying attention to them. They were both writing with crayons on their restaurant placemats, which contained mazes, word searches, and other activities. SB loves word searches and both of them love mazes, but they had already done those and had become bored with these activities. SB had turned to writing his multiplication tables on his placemat, both the fours and the fives. I smiled thinking about how not many second graders know their multiplication tables. Then AB started to skip count for me. “Mommy, I can count by fives!” he said. And he did, all the way to 100. “That’s great! Can you count by 2s?” I asked him. “Sure!” he replied. And he did, all the way to 50. Can most kindergarteners do that? In the first half of the year? I really don’t think so.
And that’s when it hit me. That Moment of Clarity. Ok, maybe it was partially inspired by the beer I’d had. But in that moment, I thought, “I don’t ever want to change who these kids ARE. I don’t want to give them a pill to get rid of their autism. Because if I did, they would lose THIS. And THIS – this incredible ability to do math, not to mention all of their other amazing abilities, are really stinkin’ cool.” I’ve read similar statements and declarations by other autism moms and dads in books, magazine articles, and blogs. But I never felt that way, never understood, until last night.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still things about autism that I hate. I hate that SB has so much trouble focusing in class and that staying motivated is so hard for him. I hate that AB has so much difficulty paying attention in a group. I really, really, REALLY hate that understanding the social world is so incredibly challenging for both of them, and always will be. I hate that making friends will always be hard for them, and that there will certainly be teasing and bullying throughout both of their lives. Yes, all kids have things that come easy to them and things that are hard for them. We all do. But the things that are hard for SB and AB are so much HARDER than the things that are hard for typical kids. And I hate that.
But Saturday night was the first time that I really felt that if an autism-curing pill came into the picture, I would reject it. I don’t want to make them “normal.” They are extraordinary. Why would I want to change that?