Every once in a great while I experience something so overwhelming that it renders me speechless. Today I had the great blessing to have one of those experiences.
Today, thanks to my incredibly generous sister in law, was my son’s first day at Lego Robotics Club. While I was truly as excited as my boy was for him to attend this club, I was also extremely conflicted. Not about letting him go, but about whether or not I should tell anyone about him having autism or not. I wanted to give him the chance to just be…him. A kid who loves Legos more than chocolate ice cream. I wanted to give him the opportunity to walk in the door for ONCE and have him be seen first for who he is, not for his diagnosis. I posed this question to my guiding council of pajama mamas and they collectively agreed that I should tell the director of the club just in case. This way, they felt, he would receive that extra help should he need it. I agreed at first but on the ride over this afternoon, I decided to feel the place and his club mates out first. I needn’t have worried. He was in a room FULL of little “Nicks”. In fact, he was probably middle of the road with his eccentricities. He was not only in his element, with his people, but he was driven, focused, attentive, and absolutely phenomenal for the entire class. Mama was thrilled.
(isn’t there always a but in autism land?…)
This is the overwhelming part, the part that caused me to break into the ugly cry. This is the part that is always bubbling right below my surface toughness – my intense vulnerability where my son is concerned.
While I was standing in the lobby of the club listening to the director give me and another mom an overview of his (brilliant) vision of what his club has to offer, he was called away for a moment. The other mom turned to me and said “I know you”. I wasn’t surprised as it happens often because of where I currently work. I shrugged it off and we began talking about how awesome this Lego club promised to be. I mentioned how great it was for fine motor skills and she turned and directly asked me “What do you do?” so I told her I currently work as an early childhood educator at an environmental center. She laughed and said that after I had mentioned ‘fine motor skills’ that she thought perhaps I was one of the therapists from her job at an early intervention case management office. In fact, she said, her office used to be right here in this very building.
She did in fact know me. I did, in fact, know her. She was my son’s case manager over six and a half years ago when he first started early intervention. She was there at the very beginning when I didn’t even know what occupational or speech therapy was for other than to rehabilitate stroke victims. The office she spoke of that used to be in the building where my son now attends Lego Club was the same exact building. It was the same space I first walked into, with abject fear, so many years ago to request an evaluation for my baby who wasn’t talking, or gesturing, or sitting up without slumping. She was the same, lovely woman who came to my house to admit my son to her caseload. She was the woman who first mentioned my son might need OT because while she was sitting in my living room making “casual conversation” with me, she was actually observing him slam his little body into the sofa for sensory input. She watched as he accidentally slammed his little baby head so hard into the tv cabinet without even taking notice as we both flinched, imagining the pain that he should have been feeling. I knew so little back then. I thought my son was just being a boy. I had a foolish motherly pride that he was so tough for his young age. I had no idea that what he was demonstrating was a serious and potentially dangerous sensory processing disorder and he required many hours of OT ( and still does require many hours a week of OT) to help him overcome those deficits. I had blocked so much of it out but that didn’t stop it all from flooding back to me like a tidal wave in the form of the uncontrollable ugly cry.
I’m sure I looked like a complete nut job but she was kind and reassuring, just as she was so many years ago. She asked how my boy was doing. I told her that he did indeed turn out to test on the higher end of the autism spectrum but overall, he was doing well. I pointed him out to her in the classroom and we were both impressed with what we saw. My little guy was verbalizing and behaving appropriately, he was working cooperatively with his peers on his project, and he looked atypically typical. It’s rare when I’m slapped in the face with how far we have come. We still have a long way to go but we are light years from where we were nearly seven years ago. I never thought it would be possible and yet, I watched my boy blend effortlessly into a group of strangers, in an unfamiliar environment, and THRIVE. It was indeed nothing short of miraculous. It was proof that all of my sleepless nights, anxieties, countless developmental pediatrician visits, IEP battles, and one miserable auto immune disease were not for nothing.
My baby boy is gonna be just fine! I am absolutely sure of it!