Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Special thanks

I read a blog post recently in which a mother of twin 8th-grade boys with autism gave thanks for all of the little things that people have done along the way that have made a difference in her sons’ progress, education, and happiness, and also made a difference to herself personally. It made me realize that I should be recognizing and giving thanks for all of the little things that have helped me and made a difference for my son, Drew, who is now a freshman in high school.

The first thing that I am thankful for is that I have this boy to begin with. I have learned so much from him. With his guidance, I have come to view so many things in the same different way that he does. This helps us both understand the world around us in a way that makes it easier for him learn the simplest things that “typical” people take for granted.

The second thing that I am thankful for is my strength. This mystery ride that he and I have been on since his diagnosis when he was two and a half years old has been very hard, and I need to have enough for the both of us.

I am thankful for the early intervention specialists who opened my eyes to the real problem and encouraged me to get a diagnosis for him—using tremendous compassion and tact. Their encouraging words of hope were the only things that helped me through the never-ending sleepless nights that first year.

I am thankful for the best special education preschool teacher that Drew could have ever been blessed with when he turned three. She transitioned him to the school environment with inherent kindness, grace, and skill that has yet to be beat. Our entire family will never forget her enthusiasm and support and that contagiously positive attitude. Drew knows and appreciates who “gets” him and oh, how he loved her!

I am thankful for the parent who approached me during Drew’s little brother’s school party and hesitantly asked if I was Drew’s mom. With a kind smile and understanding eyes, she quietly said, “I want you to know that he is a wonderful little boy. I will pray for him.” I was so touched that I had to excuse myself from the classroom to compose myself.

I am thankful for the fill-in-the-blank activity papers that came home from school in the early years that have Drew’s handwritten “Mom” in the blank after “When I need help, I can ask….”

I am thankful for the special education administrator who sent me an email out of the blue, saying, “Every morning, Drew asks to stop by a classroom where there is a young boy in a wheelchair who is nonverbal. He always crouches down to eye level and says hello, smiles, and tells him to have a nice day. When the boy smiles back at him, Drew beams! He walks away looking so happy. I just wanted you to know that this always makes my day.”

I am thankful for two parents who are the best grandparents that Drew could ever have. They have been my main source of support from the very beginning, and I couldn’t love them more for being there whenever I need them to help me get through the day, even if it’s just to lend an ear or offer their shoulders to cry on.

I am thankful for the night when I tucked Drew into bed, and after our hug and kiss, he held my face with his hands, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “You’re a good woman.”

I am thankful for the speech therapist who worked with Drew for three years and always had such happy and positive news for me about his progress, spoken with such earnest enthusiasm that it always had me leaving IEP meetings with tears of relief and hope to help balance the frustration and helplessness.

I am thankful for the fill-in-the-blank papers from social skills class in middle school that have Drew’s handwritten “tell Mom” after “When I’m frustrated, I know I can….” And, my favorite: “hug Mom” after “When I’m sad, I can….” Yes, you can, Drew.

I am thankful for the smiles that come after the tears—both his and mine.

I am thankful that Drew has a little brother who loves him so furiously that he told me one day, “You know, if anyone is ever mean to Drew, I would punch them right in the face.” And I said, “Good.” (Don’t tell anyone.) (I did discourage it from happening on school grounds.)

I am thankful that I had the strength to tell a little boy who was playing at my house that he would have to leave because he was not being nice to Drew. It feels good to prove to myself that no matter how much more I feel that I should be doing for Drew, I will always, unfailingly, have his back. Everyone deserves that.

I am thankful for my mother, for seeking out every religious clergyman at any event she attends (who knew there were so many clergymen at social events?) to ask them to pray for her grandson.

I am thankful for the lawyer that I somehow found in the midst of all my phone calls searching for an advocate, who ended up spending four years—96 percent pro bono—getting Drew to the placement he is in for high school today. I will never forget the support and encouragement I received from him for so long and the kind and heartfelt words that he has said to me privately about my dedication to Drew. Sometimes you just need to feel validated. Thank you, Attorney. I don’t know what motivated you to do all you have done out of the goodness of your heart alone, but you are a very special person.

I am thankful for the occupational therapist who saw me standing, completely distraught, outside Drew’s future high school during his first visit last summer and approached me to introduce herself. I think she recognized the sting of reality and despair on my face. I was trying to digest that this classroom I just saw that consisted of all kinds of different and quirky individuals was truly where my son belonged. No matter how much I felt that I had accepted his disability, this realization was like a sucker punch to my soul. With an encouraging smile, she told me that she had been observing Drew and that he was doing very well. As if I had uttered a word of doubt, she intuitively put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You should be proud of yourself that you got him into this program. You need to know that he is in the right place.” I was so overcome with the relief of hearing those words that I could only manage to whisper out a few of my own: “He really wants to have a friend.” She gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze, leaned in, and said, “He will. I promise you, he will.”

I am thankful for the medical professionals and members of the scientific community who are working tirelessly for answers about this disability and searching for ideas on how to relieve the endless struggles that come along with it. I am all for relieving my son’s stress and doing whatever it takes to make his life easier, but I do not want a “cure.” The way Drew’s brain works gives him his personality, and I can’t imagine not having such a sweet, sensitive, loving person in my life. He wouldn’t hurt a fly and just wants everyone to be happy. We need more people like him in the world, not less.

I am thankful for people who show a sincere interest in how Drew is doing, and in how I am doing as well. It means more than you will ever know. You know who you are, and I love you all.

Lastly, I am so thankful for the parent who posted her own thanks that gave me the inspiration for writing this. I think we all need to start giving thanks on more than one day a year.


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