99: We’re All a Little Spectrum

99: We’re All a Little Spectrum

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

We’re All a Little Spectrum

Faith is a passionate intuition.

~William Wordsworth

I remember March 2002. My son was almost three and the state’s largest autism clinic, after a six-hour drive, an all-day evaluation and an expensive overnight hotel stay, had just offered me their professional opinion and advice. He had low-functioning autism and was moderately mentally retarded. His IQ was in the low 60’s. I had anticipated the diagnosis, but not the dire picture that they painted.

That was more than ten years ago and a lot has changed since then. My son has blown every dire prediction right out of the water. With a lot of hard work from a small army of therapists, consultants, and educators, he is at present mainstreamed in a middle school classroom, earning high-honor-roll grades, and speaking without the use of his communication device. He still prefers to be a loner, but he has established friendly relationships with kids at school and in the community. We’re still working hard on behaviors, but his peers accept him just the way he is.

It’s been a long journey. On the way we spent a lot of time in the waiting room of the outpatient therapy center and I’ve met dozens of amazing moms and dads and kids with lots of different diagnoses. Every single family I have met has left me with a profound and lasting impression about how life goes on, love happens naturally, families adapt to their new realities, and finding your blessings to count them isn’t so hard.

Getting to know these families showed me over time that no matter the diagnosis, there were similarities. The kid with Down syndrome flaps his hands when he’s excited, too! The kid with the G-tube avoids eye contact, too! The hearing-impaired kiddo perseverates on topics that interest him, too! The kid with a traumatic brain injury lines up his crayons, too!

Eventually, my son was dismissed from outpatient therapy because he had met his goals. He continued to receive speech and OT in school, but we had to say goodbye to our outpatient-therapy extended family.

Volunteering at school allowed me to see my son and his peers in their natural setting and again, I realized that even kids without IEPs were stimming. Even the neurotypical kids had sensory issues. My son wasn’t the only kid who didn’t want to touch the putty or use glue or eat “wet” food at lunch. My son wasn’t the only one who didn’t really want to play in a group or didn’t like the echo in the gym. My son wasn’t the only one who had meltdowns and completely lost it for reasons that were never fully known.

So as the years have passed, as I have watched my son, now twelve, and my neurotypical daughter, now seven, both blast their way through school and exhibit their own wonderfully unique and amazing personalities, I have reached two important conclusions.

One is that sometimes mother’s intuition really does trump years of medical training and scientific testing. To the team of students and doctors and psychiatrists and mental health professionals and social workers from 2002, I emphatically say, “You were wrong.” They were really arrogant to think that the best of 2002 was all that the future had to offer us, and they were wrong to hold out so little hope. The last decade has brought us a ton of new information, new therapies, new technology, new resources, and new opportunities. I am so glad that I listened to my instincts when every fiber in my body rebelled against their professional opinions!

My other conclusion is that we all, every single one of us, have a little spectrum in us. If you look at all the criteria that define the spectrum diagnosis, every single person on the planet could identify with something on that list. They make us unique, individual, charismatic, maddening, dysfunctional, determined, joyous, anxious and everything else in between. You don’t need to have the autism or Asperger’s diagnosis to be obsessed with details or topics that might not interest anybody else, or to have a fantastic memory or a sensory dysfunction, or to prefer quiet time at home to a boisterous crowd, or to find eye contact a little too intense. We all have a little spectrum in us, and it’s part of what makes each of us a beautiful person.

I thank God for both of my children and our friends and all of their unique positions on the spectrum for giving me the chance to realize this facet of humanity, and to appreciate that we are all extraordinary beings. I look forward to seeing how my introverted, technology- and history-obsessed son (who still hates “wet” food and flaps his hands when he’s excited but is a pro at a proper social introduction), and my exuberant, fearless, creative and thoughtful daughter (who sometimes avoids eye contact), continue to mature into amazing adults, each with their own degree of spectrum perfection.

~Laura Cichoracki

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