This week we celebrated our son’s 17th birthday. He didn’t want a party or a big celebration. Having autism means that those kinds of things are too much for his sensory processing to handle, but we are still able to celebrate him, the young man he has become, in our own way.
As we sat at the restaurant of his choosing it occurred to me just how much joy he brings to us. Often, we focus on the difficulty and struggle, his mostly, but also ours in a world that is so ill equipped to deal with children of difference, that sometimes it is easy to forget the person behind the label.
As he sat laughing at his sister’s silly antics, I looked at him and thought just what an amazing gift he had been to me personally.
Master J was only diagnosed with autism at the age of 12. Despite having challenges from birth, our path to diagnosis was fraught with obstacles and medical staff that would not listen. We knew deep down inside that something was not normal. Through this very challenging process, he taught me to completely trust my own instincts and to never ever give up.
Before he was born, I am ashamed to admit, I was such a judgemental parent. Miss J was a model child. She slept through the night at six weeks, met all of her developmental milestones and would come to us to ask to be put to bed. I arrogantly assumed this was because I was an excellent parent. It wasn’t, of course. But because of the easy child she was, I judged parents who had “difficult children” because, you know, they were obviously not doing it right.
Master J has taught me to be a compassionate person, not only with other parents but with other people in general. What I learned as a parent of a child on the spectrum, with all the judgement that gets thrown our way, is that no matter what your situation is, until I have walked in your shoes, until I have lived your life and had your experiences, I have absolutely no right to judge you. I try very hard to get on with the business of managing my family and I trust you in the decision you make with yours. We live in a world of judgement and conformity, one where difference is shunned. Master J has taught me to try to rise above that.
Being diagnosed with autism at the age of 12 meant that Master J missed out on all of the early intervention strategies that research shows improves the outcomes for autistic children. I resented the medical fraternity so much for so long for doing that to him. But there came a time where I had to let that go. It happened and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to learn to accept our situation and start focussing on all the things that he can do rather than all those he couldn’t. Letting go and accepting was key in how we moved forward and it has filtered into pretty much everything we do. Life is short. We have to learn to move on or we stop growing and that just wouldn’t do.
There is so much that Master J has taught me but mostly he has taught me that there are over 7 billion people on this planet of ours and each one of us has a right to be here, to be heard, and to live a life to its fullest potential. I am indeed a better person, and that is a true gift.