There's a tree in our old neighborhood that my husband pointed out on a walk once. Years ago, someone nailed a sign to it. “No Trespassing”, most likely, but you can barely read it. The tree has grown up and around the sign such that today, only a few black letters are visible beyond the gnarled and knobby bark. How the steely edges of that yellow sign must have dug and cut into its proud trunk along the way.
I think about that tree sometimes when I think about our hardships and the things of this world that are wont to undo us; if I can just keep growing, if I can embrace this with all my might, if I can twist this into becoming part of us, and not the other way around…
It was exactly a year ago that I answered the phone and listened intently as a nice young woman with a soft voice explained the tests, the results, and what our next steps were to be. And there we were in that forest, the words AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER on a square metal sign being nailed to us, suddenly aware of a new reality. Dates were discussed, an IEP meeting was scheduled. “She’s going to do great things” she said, “She’s going to be just fine”.
And she is. I think. I don’t know. Autism is a wild and lonely predicament. It is energy and fear, tunneled focus and aimless wandering. It is my sweet and precious child running and running in circles, over and over again and again. But it is other things too. It is patterns and shapes and the ability to grasp new concepts with little to no explanation beyond the fact of a rule: Qu says “Kwa”. And just like that she could read and make tigers out of tangrams. So I know we are headed somewhere. There’s direction, there’s purpose, a future. But who she is can feel like a secret sometimes, kept even from me. There was a summer that I kept losing her. She was so quiet that year. She would be next to me and I would look up and she would be gone. I would tear through the house in a panic and find her, every time, perched like a tiny bird in our Loquat tree, eating the sweet summer fruit.
It is right out of life’s lesson book: how afraid you can be of words, how they can make your stomach turn, trap you in one fearful, visceral moment, the air around you tight and thick with worry. And all it takes is learning, accepting. A deep breath: It’s going to be okay.
So much has changed in just a year. Therapy, integration. Our expectations. Our degree of neurotypical-ness. We have moved away from the silence and the Loquat tree and into something else that, quite honestly, I am too deep into to speak about intelligently. We are growing though, finding our way around this. What we want for her seems so easy: to hear music without feeling scared, to speak to her peers without feeling overwhelmed and out of place, to move from one thing to the next without confusion. To see and be seen, without the chaos of sound and sense and the volume of human dynamic forcing her back into herself.
We are a young tree now. The sign hangs bright and obvious. Our trunk has met its edges and it is digging in. It hurts sometimes. But the sign is small and we are growing. Winter has passed and shoots of green emerge from our fingertips and turn up and toward the light, like little gifts opening to the sun.
It’s going to be okay.