63: The Group I Didn’t Sign Up For

63: The Group I Didn’t Sign Up For

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

The Group I Didn’t Sign Up For

A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.

~Author Unknown

I didn’t sign up for this. These concerns, these remarks and opinions, these lengthy — very lengthy — processes, this autism — I didn’t sign up for this.

This was not my plan, not even close. But this plan became reality for me in the year 2005. If I had been told, back when I first found out, that I would have to deal with all that I have dealt with, I would have said, “You’re crazy! I can’t and won’t do it! I can’t handle it!” And I would have said these things while burying my face in my arms, curled into a fetal position.

Today I would say different things. Back then I wondered how I was going to cope, how I was going to handle the days and months and years of going through the same motions over and over, addressing the same problems over and over. It might have helped me to know that “handling it” would mean different things on different days. You can’t conquer autism in one day, but you can chip away at it bit by bit.

I learned about “handling it” when I became a part of the group I didn’t sign up for: the group of mothers of children with special needs. I think the first time I realized that I had become a member of the group was William’s first day at the Jane Justin School. It was a special school designed to meet his individual needs, so perhaps I should have been feeling good about taking a tangible, positive step. But I didn’t feel like that; I was completely and utterly depressed. I had done it. I had signed up. But I still didn’t like what I was signing up for. Sure, it was a highly reputable school based on the science of applied behavior analysis, which I have come to greatly appreciate and respect, but I didn’t want William to be different, much less be grouped in the same category as some of those other children. Why? Because it was a reminder for me that he had special needs. Looking back, I realize that I had a lot of learning to do!

Initially, I cringed at the thought of my three-year-old going to an all-day school. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he would be receiving the best education possible — because I did. I was blessed to find a school so amazingly suited to his needs. No, I cringed at the feeling (rational or not) that a mother feels when she realizes, “I am not enough for my child.” William needed more than I could give him, and he needed it right then — hence the term “early intervention.” I had to get past my own bitterness and disappointment at the situation and put his needs ahead of my feelings.

I hated feeling like he was “missing out” on his youth. What mother wants her child to be in school — not daycare, but school — at the age of three? Probably all mothers feel something similar when their children go off to kindergarten, but this wasn’t kindergarten and William was no five-year-old. But it needed to be done, for his sake. Early intervention is key

At the end of the first day, a few mothers were waiting in line to pick up their children, and one, whose name I learned was Heidi, began a conversation with me. The first questions were the standard questions exchanged between all mothers, especially on the first day of school: “How old is your child?” “Is this your first year?” It wasn’t long, though, before the questions became those that only members of this group, this club, would understand. We began talking about therapies and diagnoses, a conversation common to all parents of children with special needs, and that was when I knew for sure: whether or not I’d signed up for the group, I was in it.

Desperate to convince myself that I could handle this, I remember thinking, “This mother does it. How does she do it with such determination and strength?” I had not yet been exposed to the big shocker. Just as our conversation had reached a lull, the classroom door opened again. Two boys ran up to Heidi, grinning and showing her pictures they’d made at school that day. She had twins! Yes, twin five-year-old boys, both with autism spectrum disorders. Watching the two of them run up to her with open arms of excitement, my eyes began to fill with tears, and it was hard work not to completely lose it. There I was, feeling depressed and anxious about my one boy, and she had two dear, sweet boys in need of her constant attention. Though I had degrees and extensive training, Heidi taught me novels of information in those five minutes of conversation. As I watched her with her boys. I vowed never to let autism overwhelm my family or me to the point where we thought that we had lost the battle or that we were missing out on something better for all of us.

After getting William settled into his car seat and climbing in myself, I closed the car door that day knowing things were different. I couldn’t stop thinking about that mother and her two little boys, and I cried in the car as I thought, “Nothing will ever be the same. And actually, I hope that’s the case.”

~Melanie Fowler

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