Thursday, April 26, 2012
Cycles and Autism
Never is that cycle more apparent than when the child becomes a parent and they begin to realize, "Oh CRAP!!! I hope my child's life is better than my life was" or "I hope they make different choices." Or even, "I made good choices and have lived a good life, I hope my child's life is as fulfilling as mine was." It's inevitable. We all go through it. Especially women.
From the moment most of us get pregnant (some people aren't dreamers, they are very practical) we dream of what we hope will our children's life. We have great hopes and great dreams for them. For some of us, we hold onto those dreams until our children assert their own need for independence. At that time we either hold onto those dreams and force our children into a mold we have designed for them (which may not be the mold God designed for them) or we struggle to let go of our dreams and allow our children to dream for themselves. The latter is preferable for our children, but I will be honest, even Chris and I still struggle to let our oldest daughter, Sarah make her own dreams happen.
When we began to really start testing Elizabeth and I put two and two together, I drove home with a heart that weighed a ton of lead. It wasn't just that something wasn't right it was that I remember to this day very vividly how people made fun of the special needs children in school when I was growing up. I remember their cruelty to me and I wasn't even as different as Lizzie is now. I walked in the door and Chris knew as soon as he saw the tears running down my face something wasn't right. All I could say was "Something is wrong with our baby. And her life will never be easy or the same." I realized that other people would most likely not see all of the amazing things I saw in Elizabeth. Her vivid imagination, her kind and beautiful heart filled with compassion for others, or her sense of adventure (even if that sense of adventure is the cause for most of my gray hair). Okay so she still is learning to speak like others, okay so she doesn't see the world as other people see it. Guess what a lot of our great innovators and imagineers in our world didn't see the world through the same eyes as other people.
As time went on and we received her diagnosis we began the process of grieving. It was a loss. Not to death, but to the loss of our dreams for her. Learning to let go of what we had hoped for her future and accepting new goals, hopes and dreams.
Autism isn't a death sentence, nor does it have to be the end of the world. Yes, it comes with it's own challenges and there are obstacles to work on overcoming (some you achieve, some you learn to accept and some you keep trying). But there are people with Autism who aren't High Functioning who learn to cook, clean, and have productive lives. They have new programs coming out all of the time for adults with Autism. Programs that aid them in living in the world, or in a community of other adults who struggle with the world too. But they are there.
Letting go and accepting your child's diagnosis is a small part of the journey we take with our children. For some of us, our children can feasibly live without us, for some that is not an option, for others a group home becomes a reality or an institution. All are tough, letting our children grow up and leave the nest means trusting we've done our best to prepare them for life away from us. For those whose adult children need us to keep them at home, it often presents other problems - like what happens to my child after I am gone, and for those who must put their children in a home or institution there is the guilt of feeling like we failed our children. Regardless though, I think we all struggle with feeling like we failed our children when they are diagnosed with a special needs. Even I struggled, knowing that logically there was nothing I did that caused Lizzie's Autism didn't mean my heart understood. Getting your heart to catch up with your head can sometimes take a long time to connect the two.
There are cycles in life. We all are born, grow up, and face challenges, we become parents (sometimes before marriage and sometimes afterwards) and we all struggle to let go of our children and allow them to become their own person. But never, never is that struggle more difficult if you have a child who has medical problems early in life or if you have a child with special needs or if you have to fight for them to be safe and loved.
Have a good rest of your week.