49: To Soar

49: To Soar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

To Soar

Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as high as it will.

~Aiden Wilson Tozer

It was just eleven days past my nineteenth birthday. I was in labor and all was not well. With forceps assist, Justin was finally delivered. Four weeks later, we were back at the hospital in the emergency room. The consequences of my ignorance in 1971, and a doctor’s misdiagnosis, resulted in a vast array of consequences that have lasted to this day.

The traumatic delivery caused a slow leak in Justin’s brain, a subdural hematoma. It did not show up for a couple of weeks. I recognized something was not quite right, but a doctor said I was overreacting and that Justin was just coming down with a cold. A week later, I could not wake him up and rushed him to the emergency room.

Most of the doctors trying to help my baby survive seemed harsh and abrupt toward me. I soon understood why. Justin’s father and I were interrogated as to whether or not we had been violent with him. They kept asking if we had shaken Justin, or if we had accidentally dropped him.

It was the early 1970’s. Justin’s father and I were gentle peace freaks. We wanted to make a better world. We wanted to be great parents. Hurting our baby was incomprehensible to us.

The doctors initially reported that Justin had a 1 in 2,000 chance of surviving, let alone being anywhere near normal. Justin did survive, and thrived even with an injured brain. Understandably, all was not perfect. Justin’s early years were sometimes taxing for us.

Early on, it was obvious Justin had social and developmental problems. I spent a lot of time with doctors, many who looked at my non-conformist hippie lifestyle as being the root of some of Justin’s woes. Thankfully, there was one shining social worker who looked past the flowers in my hair and saw into my heart. She probably saved my sanity. Having one compassionate person offer loving kindness was worth fifty disdainful others who did not take the time to know me.

At three years of age, Justin was diagnosed as borderline autistic. He was hyperactive and not always responsive to interactions with other people. His speech skills were slow to develop. He had mild cerebral palsy. The compassionate social worker helped me map out some helpful developmental strategies, one of which included having Justin spend time with other children. I got a part-time job and put Justin in the best daycare I could find. Eventually, because of his tendency to throw things and clobber the other kids, he was asked to leave the program.

I spent a lot of time reading to Justin, trying to help him focus. He had to be under observation all the time, as he lacked survival skills. He would not just wander off, he would run. To relax us both, I would drive him to a construction site, or to the local airport, where he would sit in the car and watch the big machines that fascinated him. I used that time to read novels. As Justin’s motor skills improved, he focused on mechanical toys. His favorite toy was a riding, pedal tractor. He was at his best in quiet surroundings, in motion.

Over the years, I searched for help and guidance wherever I could find it. My exterior became less radical, and I was not so frequently accused of being the cause of his problems. After a few years, I decided to earn a college degree to help save the environment. The local university had a daycare center, so I enrolled Justin. They were wonderful folks and helped to find solutions to problems rather than pointing fingers. The head professor even visited my home to observe Justin. He was totally amazed at the compliant, focused, gentle boy who was so much different than the one he saw at the daycare center.

When Justin started elementary school, the teachers worked with me the best they could. This was the era when the education system was just beginning to give specialized help to children with special needs. One astute teacher observed that Justin sometimes intentionally committed infractions so that he would be put in the time-out room. It seemed that the more people and activity around him, the more stressed he felt. He had difficulty processing classroom instructions, distracted by a group. One on one, he thrived.

I also searched for activities that would engage and center Justin’s attention. Computers intrigued him. By eight, he was learning to write simple programs on his VIC-20 computer. Justin always loved flying machines. He had an innate understanding of aerodynamics. We had long conversations where he would explain the function of things like canards. He wanted to be a pilot. His colorblindness, cerebral palsy, and the seizures that started when he was twelve, precluded that aspiration . . . sort of.

As a young man, Justin earned two computer-related associate’s degrees. While in school, he worked part-time as a bagger at a grocery store. It was routine work that involved predictable interactions with people. After college, unable to find a job in the computer field, he continued to bag groceries. He lived spartanly and saved his money.

Justin became friends with a compassionate man who saw past his idiosyncrasies and shared his passion for flying. They started flying remote-controlled planes together.

Today, as a middle-aged man, Justin still bags groceries for a living. It is a routine job with low stress and great predictability. It is comfortable. He earns enough money to live in a nice apartment, and manages his finances well enough to fund his hobbies.

One of his hobbies is to build small robots from scratch and program them to do simple tasks. But his main passion remains flying. He worked hard and earned a rating to fly a paraglider. Most people would find it extremely stressful to hang in the air on just the wind. But to Justin, it is simple freedom. He now soars in the thermals where he can fly free, above all other external over-stimulation. And that is how I like to think of my son: soaring!

~Jane Marie Allen Farmer

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