It was a Friday. We were at the park, enjoying one of the last unofficial days of summer in the way that we do best – with ABA therapy. My boy was whizzing down the slide, his little body being tossed about in the tube with his inability to keep himself righted the whole way down. He didn’t care. The more crashing, the better.
His therapist met him at the bottom. There she took advantage of the temporary clarity from the sensory motor activity to request some eye contact. Once received, she prompted my boy to request “More slide”. Of course he wants more. He parrots her words exactly and is given the thing he wants most – clearance to head back up again.
I stand at my usual post atop the stairs, serving as a spotter for my boy. He’s tripped on the stairs more than once in his efforts to make his legs move in the way they should. I steady him on the ladder as he ascends towards his destination – the green slide. It’s always the green slide.
This time, we’re met by another child – a boy just a bit older than mine. He’s all boy, and he greets mine with an assortment of karate moves. My boy hums and looks off into the distance; he doesn’t notice the display of preschool manliness.
I help Jack climb the ladder and the boy begins to tease him. ”I can climb the ladders all by myself. You’re a baby because your Mommy has to help you!”
I try to ignore the boy’s taunts, because I know that Jack doesn’t notice them. He doesn’t understand. He’s blissfully unaware of the teasing. Once Jack is safety at the top and descending his beloved green slide, I turn to walk back down to meet him again. The boy stands in my way. I smile and walk around him. He shouts after my boy – “You’re a baby! Only babies need help!”
I hear a voice pipe up in defense; it’s Jack’s ABA therapist. ”He’s not a baby. He’s just younger than you and still learning!” Now, for all of her good intentions, I fear that Jack’s ABA therapist may have just breeched playground protocol by scolding another person’s child. She’s protective of Jack, having worked with him since the beginning, and she does not suffer fools gladly, be they 4 or 40.
I look ahead and see a woman approaching Jack and his therapist. She stops in front of them and I see her smile. She’s an older woman, with weathered hands that give the impression of someone who has raised children and cared for many grandchildren in her day. I can only assume she is the boy’s grandmother, and she confirms this.
That’s when I see it – the pin. She has a blue puzzle piece on her lapel. She’s looking down at my boy with a smile. She shouts to her grandson to be kind to everyone, then she extends her hand to me. The look in her eyes says it all. I know. I see it. I understand.
She begins. ”My granddaughter has autism.”
I smile back. A connection. ”So does my son.”
She begins to speak. Her granddaughter is several years older than my boy. She’s been here, watching from the sidelines and fighting in the trenches all at the same time. She knows the lingo. She speaks it fluently. She knows about sensory diets, therapies, and even feeding problems. She tells me about a feeding program in our area – one of the best, or so I’ve heard – and their success with it. She tells me that children with autism hold a special place in her heart, and she motions towards her granddaughter.
There she is. Playing. Swinging. To the casual observer, you might not notice anything, but to the experienced special needs parent, you see it. The way she moves. Talks. It’s there.
Then, this grandmother tells of hope. She tells of days where her granddaughter was in a similar place as my boy. She tells of the progress to be had. The potential. The raw intelligence in our children that is clamoring for a way to get out – to show the world just what they’re capable of doing for us all.
I soak up her words, coming from years more of experience in this arena and decades more of life than I can claim.
By the time she finishes singing the praises of her grandchild, her eyes bear the dew-covered appearance of gratitude for the blessings she has been given. I, too, find myself feeling joy for what she has and hope for what lies ahead for my boy. I feel fortunate that I am raising my boy now, not 3 decades ago when I was a small child and kids like mine where shut away from the world. I feel fortunate that there is so much we can do – so much we can try – for my boy.
She clasps my hands and tells me how beautiful my son is. I smile; I agree. She then tells me something I already knew, but that I needed to hear from her regardless – “Never stop fighting for him. They are all precious and all worth the fight.”
With that closing remark, her weathered hands drop mine and we part. I’m left with a sense of gratitude for the wisdom of this grandmother and a sense of hope, for if this woman’s hands have become weathered paving a path for her grandchild, certainly I can find the strength to keep walking that path that others have laid at my feet. I can improve the path as I go, planting seeds of hope and happiness along the way. Because that’s what we all need to do – support each other along the journey.
One day, I hope to be able to provide that kind of hope for someone else. Perhaps my weathered hands can help someone else who is new to the journey.