If you’re the parent of a child with autism, then you know that, most days, “drown” might be a more apt aquatic description than “dive in.” Regardless, dive in I did last year when my three year-old son was diagnosed with autism.
I’m no toe dipper. I don’t wade my feet. I don’t shy away from the surf. I jump in. Cannonball!
Deep into the murky waters of autism I went, in search of answers to help my son. My son, who had been kicked out of daycare, who had been politely pushed out of preschool, who had finally forced the nanny to quit. My son, whose aggressive tendencies and seeming lack of empathy were making me feel like a complete failure as a mother.
I was so tired of feeling utterly alone, walking along an endless shoreline with no sense of direction other than onwards.
So yes, when the word autism presented itself, I dove in headfirst, desperate for answers.
What I found was an overwhelming sea of acronyms and terms I knew nothing about: ASD, NT, visual schedules, OT, SL, echolalia, ASD, dysgraphia, OCD, ABA, proprioceptive, IEP, ADOS, stimming, DSM-IV, vestibular, PDD-NOS, EDD, Aspergers, MET, SPD, classic autism, DSM-V, hypotonia, ADA, hyperlexyia, AS, ASA, play therapy, DTT, GARS, high-functioning autism, HFA, Theory of Mind, ODD, SIB, caseins, TOM, TS, social stories…
Sometimes, I forgot to come up for air.
Sometimes, I swam so deeply I lost which way was up.
Sometimes, I panicked, my chest and lungs burning for relief.
Sometimes, I felt depressed, allowing myself to sink down deeper and deeper and deeper.
But then, something quite unexpected happened.
I found life down there at the bottom of that vast sea, a group of like-minded parents who knew exactly what I was feeling, parents who knew exactly what I was experiencing. They gave me their words, their stories, their honest advice, their candid confessions, their hard-earned humor. They gave me the strength to rise back up to the surface.
And rise I did.
It’s been over a year now since my son’s diagnosis. I’m back on shore, but it’s not as barren and desolate as it used to be. Now, I’m armed with an arsenal of knowledge and the camaraderie of other like-minded parents who get it.
I still visit that murky water often. As my son grows, so do my questions. My research and reflection, my wonders and worries, incessantly splash against my feet as I walk along that beach, a constant reminder that, as a mother, nothing is ever really resolved or complete. From time to time, I am forced to dive back in, discovering new, unchartered waters.
Sometimes, it feels like I’m skinny dipping in broad daylight.
But, hey, at least now I have company.