16: A Perfect Present

16: A Perfect Present

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

A Perfect Present

You must never feel that you are less than anybody else. You must always feel that you are somebody.

~Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King, Jr.

When my three-year-old son Paul was first diagnosed with autism, pictures of him in an institution, sitting in a corner rocking back and forth, flashed through my mind. Somehow I managed to see through my tears well enough to drive us home after the assessment. I had never anticipated even for one second that I’d be confronted with such devastating news, otherwise I would have asked my husband to accompany us.

For three years I had somehow managed to deny the fact that my quiet little boy was always lost in his own world. I had steadfastly overlooked all the times that, when I spoke to him, he would never even look at me, let alone answer me. Now there was no more denial. The diagnosis of autism had slapped me solidly in the face.

I remembered hearing parents of special needs children say the silver lining in their clouds of sorrow is that these kids have the biggest hearts in the world. If that were true, I thought, as I lifted Paul out of his car seat that day, I would never know it. Paul would never be able to tell me or show me how he felt. When I set him down on the driveway, I watched as he ambled into the house without so much as a glance back at my tear-stained face.

After an entire week of crying and praying, I began reading as many books on autism as I could get my hands on. The more recent the book, I soon realized, the more hope it offered for finding my little lost boy. The Cobequid Centre just outside Halifax proved to be a great resource. It was there we found Judy Smith, a wonderful speech and language therapist. Judy gave me reason to believe that Paul could and would be helped.

Within a few months Judy was getting him to respond to her verbally with basic commands such as “more” when he wanted her to blow more bubbles. She forced him to look at her when he talked, although he wanted nothing more than to look away. She was patient but firm, which was just what Paul needed.

Faith plays an integral part in our family and we always looked forward to the Sunday school Christmas pageant at our church in Sackville. My three older children were very excited about the songs they were singing, but I wondered if I should sit Paul out when his class went on stage to perform. What if he wandered off? What if he just stood there without opening his mouth? My husband and I didn’t want to segregate him, but we didn’t want our little boy to be embarrassed either.

Paul’s mental strengths soon proved to make up for much of his verbal weakness. He easily memorized the words of the song his class was to perform, as we sang it together in the car and at bedtime for the few weeks before the pageant. When the time came, I videotaped my brave boy standing straight and still, and singing “Away in a Manger” along with the rest of his Sunday school class, just like there was nothing to it.

The next day, when I took the video with me to share with Judy, we both stared at it in tears. We were amazed that our little Paul could blend into a group of such smart, well-behaved kids so easily.

“You did that,” I whispered.

She hugged me in the emotion of the moment.

“WE did that — Paul, you and me,” she insisted. “We’re a team.”

What a priceless Christmas present that moment was for me. To realize that my little boy, despite his limitations, had such a strong talent for memorization. With very little help from me he had mastered the words to what has become my favourite Christmas carol.

This event gave us reason to believe our son was exceptionally intelligent in ways that would eventually help him overcome his disability. Through this wonderful Christmas experience — God gave us hope.

~Jayne Thurber-Smith

Chesapeake, Virginia

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