We’ve been struggling for two years to figure out what was different about my beautiful three and a half year old. She is literally the most gorgeous toddler I’ve ever seen; you’d never think something was wrong upon first glance. If she caught your eye, it would be her big brown eyes, or her thick blonde hair that did it.
Autism was the first thing our pediatrician ruled out. His assessment to predict autism had an accuracy rate of 98%.
“Autism” is the word I hung in the basement of my worry two years ago; it’s been sitting there untouched, collecting dust, forgotten. I had revisited it once or twice, simply because nothing else seemed to fit. I’d admit to myself there were some uncanny similarities… but it couldn’t be, right? M doesn’t show many of the classic symptoms.
Only four months into the school year, the teachers called a meeting to revise some of her goals and discuss diagnosis, the very thing I’d been dying to have. In the meeting they told me we’d have to take her to a developmental pediatrician for a professional diagnosis, but they unanimously agree and believe our daughter falls on the autism spectrum. As soon as they said it, I knew it was true. I was almost relieved to hear it. I always knew there was a reason I kept that ugly word in the basement collecting dust– something in me sensed we’d have to pull it back out one day.
When I sat down to write this post, I thought it was for the purpose of encompassing my feelings about all of this and putting words to them. I am a verbal processor, and writing is almost as good as talking, so this post was meant to be a therapeutic process. At this point, I realize my feelings are pretty inconsequential so I’ll only address them briefly:
I am devastated on many counts. I don’t know if she will ever have the social capacity to maintain meaningful relationships with her peers. I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to connect with someone and find the person who lights up her soul as Mike does mine. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to hold her babies. I don’t know if she’ll be able to work toward a fulfilling career. Many girls with autism experience significant bullying and loss of friendships as they move through grade school and into junior high. There are links between anorexia and autism. Depression is a serious problem for girls who have autism. There is a good chance she will need to stay in special ed. through her schooling. She and Owen are so close in age, will he be embarrassed of her at school and treat her badly? Will she be able to go to college? There will always be people around who don’t understand why she is the way she is and give up on trying to be her friend. The filter through which she experiences life will always be different.
My first, perfect baby.
I’ve cried a lot, I’ve been angry, I’ve had terrible nightmares. I’ve let myself completely feel and experience every possible emotion over the last three days. I haven’t fought to stay afloat; I’ve surrendered and let myself sink into it, fully immersed in this new reality.
Today, I am ready to face it.
Today is about resolve, forward motion, and peace.
Today, I resolve to help M blossom into the most beautiful version of herself that she can be, instead of hoping she merely turns into an enhanced version of me. M is not going to be like me when she grows up. She’s going to be like her. I am committed to helping her discover the very best about herself and cultivating confidence in her, finding things she can be passionate about, and providing the most quality home life I can. I have so much say in how my daughter feels about herself, and I am going to start acting like it.
Today, I resolve to fill her childhood with laughter! Life is hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. We are going to laugh and play hard as often as we are able. We are not going to promote an environment of pity or sadness; we will laugh. We will have abundant joy that is not fabricated, but rather flows naturally from the love we share in our family.
Today, I resolve that if there are services, therapies, or extra help available, I am going to fight to get it for her. I will be in the know, I will be present, and I will be focused. I will be available and flexible to meet her needs. I will not be perfect but I will always give her 100% of my efforts, because she deserves that.
Today, I resolve to stand up boldly to anyone who makes her uncomfortable or threatens her sense of identity and security. ….I will cut you. She should not be treated differently, pitied, or talked about as if she isn’t standing right next to me– she will be treated with the respect she deserves, and I will model for her exactly what it looks like to stand up for yourself with confidence and without backing down. One day, she’ll have no problem standing firmly on her own.
Today, I resolve to teach her to believe in herself. The bar will not be set low, expectations will not drop, and setbacks will not determine success. I will teach her to put her mind to something and see it through! We will be honest about her obstacles, we will stare them in the eyes together and we will leap over them no matter how much practice or extra work it takes.
Life is still going to be so substantial, so rich, and so full.
It will be different than we thought.
But I cling to and claim God’s promise that when He changes our course, it is always for our good.
We’ve got you M- let’s do this.