About an hour ago, I picked my fourteen-year-old son up from the high school, where he was waiting after his first swim meet. I sat across the driveway as he climbed the stairs, calling to his friends, "Good job," and "See you in the morning." He was smiling, tired, happy. In the car on the way home, he talked about how he'd scored 106 on an English test, and laughed with his sister about something someone had said on Twitter. Just a nice, normal Friday night, right? So why was I fighting back tears?
A little more than ten years ago, I sat in the dining room when the woman from Early Intervention gave me the news. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and run from the room, telling her she had it all wrong. How could this boy-- my beautiful oldest son, playing at my feet in his Buzz Lightyear costume, the boy who loved trains and reciting the poems from his Baby Einstein videos, how could he have autism?
"What does that mean? What kind of life will he have?" I asked.
"I don't really know-- it's a spectrum," was all she managed to say. Or at least all I managed to hear. My mind was whirring, protesting, reeling too much to listen to details.
I needed a hug, reassurance, hope. I know it would have been hard for this lady, whose name, face and title I can't remember but whose words still make me shudder, to tell me that my child would have a typical life. She couldn't read the future, she barely knew my son, and so she played it safe, told me that I'd get a call from someone to set up home visits, and left.
After days of reading online, I was even more terrified for his future. Certainly, there would be specialists, special education, therapies, and medication. Even then, the future looked bleak.
The last ten years haven't always been easy. We've had good years and bad years. First and second grades were fantastic-- so great that our pediatrician was convinced that the initial diagnosis was wrong. Fourth and fifth grades were horrendous. We've tried medications and behavior therapy and summer camp for kids on the spectrum. We've had fantastic church leaders who acted like his behaviors were no big deal, and some Primary teachers who seemed wholly overwhelmed when they saw his name on the roll. Now that he's a teenager, he's taking an active role in his treatment, and has been motivated by self-consciousness into modifying some of the behaviors that plagued him when he was younger.
Our son's ASD hasn't been "cured." But he's on the mild end of the spectrum, to be sure, and the reality of his life today could have been different. I spent many years in fear for his future, many years feeling like I had to downplay his accomplishments ("yeah, he's brilliant at facts, but you know he's on the autism spectrum, and that's kind of his thing"), many years tamping down my expectations because I didn't want either of us to be disappointed if he couldn't meet them.
I know we can't see the future-- jumping into the abyss is what we do as parents.
But if I just could have had a glimpse at what my son's future would hold ten years down the line, if I just could have seen five seconds of a normal night like tonight, I would have felt so reassured as that scared mom of a beautiful three-year-old boy.
We're not at the end of this road yet. While we're in a good place now, I know that the challenges of later teen years, a mission, college, and independent life still lay ahead of our son.
But let's celebrate tonight. Tonight, this ordinary Friday night, with my tired son drinking a milkshake and laughing beside me, when I stop to think about it, tonight feels like a miracle.