Autism. In the days following Mike’s diagnosis, I remember a cashier innocently asking, “How are you?” as she pushed my groceries over the scanner. “How are you?” – the question felt like a knife. I just looked at her, pondering her words, pondering my emotions. It was too painful to provide her a canned response. Too painful to form a positive thought or consider ever having a positive emotion. “How am I?” – “How am I?” My son, my 23 month old baby, MY child has autism – how could I ever be simply ‘fine?’
Mike’s 2nd birthday party was scheduled to take place a couple of weeks after his diagnosis. I was paralyzed, simply going through the motions to meet the basic needs of my family. I belonged to my local ‘Moms Club’ and the other mothers came to my aid. They took over Mike’s party – hired the bounce house, cooked the food, helped with setup. I pulled it together enough to robotically attend the party – fighting back my tears and burying my emotions. To this day, I am incapable of looking at the pictures from that party.
In the months following, I quickly formulated and implemented a plan. It was a ‘recovery’ plan. I intended on pulling my son away from the diagnosis that was defining his life. I would not allow the dark thoughts to creep into my mind. I would not allow this diagnosis to define his future, not at 2 years old. I focused on the small progress he was making and threw myself into research. ‘Autism’ became my life – therapy appointments, diets, vitamins, whatever was popular.
A year later, I found myself sitting and watching a movie that would change my life. No, it was not the subject or message of the film – it was one line.
One simple question …
That question jolted my very core and forced me to look at how I was living my life. I was living for the future – waiting for the therapy to work and my ‘perfect’ child to arrive. I had put everything on hold; I was going through the motions. In fact, I was wasting the childhood that I did have with my children.
From that day forward, I have repeated that line, both in my head, and to other autism parents, countless times. It has given me the ability to shift my focus from what could be or could have been, to what is. It helped me decide what kind of life I wanted for myself and what kind of childhood I wanted for my children. It forced me to host great birthday parties and, sometimes, drag Mike into the world. I was able, with modifications, to fulfill the dreams I had for my kids before they were born. In essence, I chose to enjoy life. I chose to focus on each day without obsessing about an unknown future.
For, if this is truly as good as it gets, I choose to make the best out of what I have been given.
After all …