I had the opportunity to write an article for the Books Make a Difference blog. Here’s me saying “Thank you!” and pasting the story in its entirety. (Will update with links ASAP)
Cheers, loves. Keep reading!
In late 2007 I was living in the vortex of a huge family hurricane. My husband was working away from home during the week. We had two small children and a third on the way. We had moved to a new town for a job that ended up being in another town entirely and I had no friends or family for support.
I hoped that I would make friends through my children’s friends. My oldest was only three years old, but like so many new parents, I was eager for him to be social. Unfortunately, the few play dates we were invited to he hid in a corner and cried. In church he obviously hated the music and cried when we left him in the nursery. There were a lot of other issues that, being a first time mom, I didn’t recognize as atypical. Oh, and did I mention he never slept? He stopped napping as soon as he turned two, every night was an hour long knock-down-drag-out fight that usually ended in pregnant me too exhausted to fight him anymore and just walking away from a child proof door. After that he’d get up two and three times in the night, sometimes screaming, sometimes singing. I never knew what I would get with him.
But then one day a new family moved to our church. They had a little boy just my son’s age. He wore noise cancelling headphones on Sunday and had a quietness about him that made him seem like the kind of kid who wouldn’t poke my sensitive son. Other people whispered about the family and talked about the boy having autism, like it might be contagious. I noticed that they weren’t invited to play groups or birthday parties either, so I decided to reach out and take a chance – what could it hurt? I was pretty sure things couldn’t get much more miserable and this strange little boy might be just the kind of friend my strange little boy needed.
The mom, Kristen, was lovely. We spent our first play date at her home where she immediately noted how tired I looked and offered me cheese and crackers. “You need your protein!” It was like I instantly had the friend I’d been looking for. I felt very few people had taken an interest in me or my life in a very long time and I almost cried in my cheese.
I told her about my sleepless nights, the tantrums, self injury, other kids tormenting him, and the fact that he didn’t have any real friends. She listened quietly and nodded, deep in thought. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t give me advice like so many other people had. She didn’t tell me to spank him and keep him in time out, or “just keep trying, dear!” – I was so sick of hearing those things. She simply gave me a hug and said, “I’ve got a book you need to read.”
It was called “The Out of Sync Child“. I wasn’t skeptical or offended at all, I took it gratefully. I was at my wit’s end. The book promised to walk me through several different types of disabilities and possible solutions for my son’s quirky behaviors. I had never considered he might have a disability before. I thought I was just a seriously crappy mother with a super touchy kid.
I’ll never forget lying in bed, unable to sleep after a particularly difficult Saturday. I picked up the book and started to skim through it. I quickly found myself sucked into the text. I’ve never been one for self-help books, but this book was actually interesting. It outlined in detail the similarities and differences children with different disabilities may have. But it did it in a way that an exhausted mother could understand. It also talked about why so many children go undiagnosed for years, even with more severe needs. I read until I came to a chapter with a quiz. I still wasn’t convinced that my child had an actual diagnosable issue, but I took the quiz anyway, answering the questions and turning quickly to the key with explanations. I thought, if anything, he’s probably got OCD and a touch of ADHD. Boy, was I surprised when my answers pointed me definitively to the autism spectrum.
I believe my first reaction was something along the lines of “what in the world?” peppered with expletives. I elbowed my snoring husband and made him wake up to look at what I had just discovered. He grunted, called me crazy, and rolled back over, but for me it was like someone had flipped a switch in my heart. I was both sad and elated at the same time. If this was really what we were dealing with, it answered so many questions. It meant that this was most likely not all my fault. I was most likely not a bad mother and my kid wasn’t just quirky or weird. He had real needs and there were people out there that could help us meet them.
Then it really hit me, hard – there were thousands of people out there that could help us! There were clubs and foundations and books and therapies and doctors and specialists and best of all, support groups full of potential friends.
I finished reading the book and I cried that night. I woke up in the morning able to look at my little boy with a new set of eyes. I promised him we were on this journey together and we’d find the people we needed to find together. Then I called my friend and thanked her for being brave and kind enough to give me that book. It changed our lives for the better, forever.