11: For Jacob

11: For Jacob

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

For Jacob

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

~Author Unknown

“Something is wrong! He won’t talk; he won’t look at me. I don’t know what he wants,” I said to my son’s doctor. She reminded me I was a first-time mom, and boys develop slower than girls. When they sent me home the fourth time with my two-year-old, I called the children’s hospital and made an appointment with the Developmental Unit, but it wasn’t for six months.

Our daycare center suggested we call Early Intervention and get Jacob evaluated. A speech therapist went to daycare twice a week to work with him.

I got home from work a few weeks later to find my husband, Ian, standing on the front porch, wide-eyed and pale. “Babe, something happened. I don’t know what, but he won’t step on carpet. He just screams.” I rushed inside to find Jacob playing on the kitchen tile.

For a week, my heart ached as Jacob moved blankets, towels, even toys around the carpet to shield his body. “This is his home. His safe place,” Ian said, as he and I cut, pulled and tossed cream-colored carpet out the front door. We were scared. What was wrong with our baby? We had friends with kids the same age, and they didn’t act like this. After a long night and with sore hands, Ian left for work, and I held my breath as Jacob touched his toes to the now exposed plywood, then exhaled slowly as he walked. We met with his daycare; they agreed to put plastic runners around their center. Jacob stuck to his path and we carried on.

A few months later, Jacob was playing silently in the bathtub when he suddenly started to scream. I grabbed him out of the water, searching him. “What is wrong? Are you hurt?” I said, fighting back the panic in my voice. He just screamed and rocked his wet body, then pointed at a fly in the water. For about a month Jacob refused to get in the bathtub. Every night, after Ian showered, I handed him Jacob, we soaped him, rinsed him, and got him out. No fun. No toys. Just tears.

Jacob would eat only four things and wear only sweatpants and soft shirts. He screamed and head-butted the cart at stores. Walmart was like pulling teeth and the grocery store . . . oh, the grocery store.

One day, on my way home from shopping, I called Ian. “People were staring at me like I was a horrible mom. This is my fault. I didn’t hug him enough. I went back to work too soon,” I cried. Ian reminded me that we would have help in two weeks. At that moment, I decided that I couldn’t wait for some stranger to help him; I had to do it myself. That night I watched him sleep and wondered if I had messed up somehow. Do you know what it is like to not understand what your child is feeling?

Saturday morning Jacob and I took photos of everything inside and outside our house. I filled my memory card with 275 photos of stores, DVDs, toys, parks, friends, family, and food.

I printed all the photos and glued them to 3x5 cards. I gave every photo a one-word name, laminated them, and organized them in three plastic boxes.

I took the next week off from work, and woke to a hand pushing on my shoulder. “Good morning, Jacob.” I smiled, and he looked at my cheek. “Are you hungry?” I asked. He walked towards the kitchen. I closed my eyes. “God, help us today,” I whispered.

He ate his breakfast and got dressed for daycare. When I told him we were staying home, he frowned. “Do you want a cookie?” I asked. I had bought his favorite cookies, and it was time to get to work. He ran to the kitchen and pointed to the cupboard. I got down on my knees in front of Jacob, showing him the 3x5 card and the cookie. “Say cookie,” I said. He stared, tears streamed out of his eyes, and then he walked away. I hung my head. Why wouldn’t my son talk to me? We did this three times that day until I heard him whisper, “ookie.” I handed him his Oreo and hugged him. He went to eat it and I slid down to sit on the floor, hands over my face and elbows on my knees as I cried.

That night I felt renewed. Once he was showered and in bed, I ran to Walmart and bought all four scuba Ninja Turtles. The next day, I ran a bath.

He watched as the tub filled and I pulled out one of the turtles. His eyes shifted to the turtle, and he reached for it. I tossed it in the clean, clear water. He tried to get it. I pushed it out of his reach and said, “He’s for the bath only, buddy. You have to get in.” He refused. The turtle went on the top shelf. I felt mean and harsh but knew this is what I had to do. After two days of filling and emptying the tub a few times, he finally climbed in, grabbed his turtle, and held him tight while I ran water over his back. Then he got out. I put the turtle up and reminded him, “Bath only.” Friday morning, I tossed the turtle in and smiled as Jacob followed, playing with the Ninja Turtle. Success!

“Mrs. Mitchell, Jacob is autistic,” the specialist informed me. I looked at my son stacking blocks. “He lacks the ability to show compassion. He might never talk, make friends or go to school,” she said calmly. I wanted to yell, scream, maybe cry but instead I smiled at Jacob. He got up and climbed onto my lap, putting his hand on my cheek. No, I had to be strong, for him.

I quit my job that day.

Jacob will be eleven in January. He attends a typical school with the help of an aide and visits to the sensory room. He doesn’t understand emotions or his body, but he tries. Jacob will always be different, but he has friends. He speaks at a nine-year-old level and loves his cat, Jerry. We have an eighty-acre hobby farm and there is nothing on this farm he can’t do. The animals are drawn to him. Jacob’s two little sisters, Abigail and Mackenzie, both have his back. Jacob is an amazing Wii player. He plays on a typical, and a special needs, ice hockey team. When Jacob is on the ice, all the stress leaves his body, and he is at peace.

We spent seven years juggling twenty hours a week of TSS, equine, aquatic, speech, physical, and occupational therapies a week.

We have more good days than bad, and as long as I prep him correctly, Jacob can go anywhere. I thank God every day for Jacob. While teaching him to be a little boy, he taught me to be a better mom.

~Sarah Mitchell

More stories from our partners