I woke up this morning, and my first thought was – “I would hate it if he were just like anyone else.”
My second thought was, “Wow, look how far he’s come.”
9 years ago, my boy came into our world, cooing and gurgling like every other child. He was a bonny little baby, full of sunshine smiles and chunky fat rolls. He didn’t meet our eyes or most of his milestones, but we enjoyed every minute, regardless.
Shortly before his second birthday, we received simultaneous diagnoses of autism and apraxia of speech, which made it even harder for this nonverbal boy to talk. He screamed with frustration because he didn’t know how to communicate his needs and wants. Everything was a battle, and he went from a happy little infant to a lost, confused toddler. We had Nirav enrolled with a good team of therapists, but his progress was so slow and fleeting that everything felt pointless.
I HATED the world for a good 12 months. Hated Autism and hated apraxia. It hurt me deep that other kids his age were stringing together long perfect sentences, while my child wasn’t making a single sound. I sobbed every time I saw a baby wave at her mom, because mine barely registered my presence. My grief was thunderous, and I resented anyone who tried to comfort me.
Raghav and I sat up late at night, poring over research articles. We connected with other families, investigated obscure therapies. We visited specialists and quacks and friends and acquaintances. Some promised that they had the secret cure – a miracle that would transform our boy into everything we hoped he’d be. Others led us along, hoping to sell us their snake oil and false hope. A friend kept asking me how Raghav and I were doing, as a couple? She’d chanced upon a statistic that divorce rates (because of stress/conflicts) were much higher among parents of an autistic child compared to the general population. Well, f#@k!
One night, a few weeks before Nirav turned 4, I hugged his warm, fragrant body and whispered into his sleepy ears – “I wish you were like everyone else. Oh how I wish I could make you Normal.We could all be a happy family again!”
His eyes flickered open, and he goggled up at me. Fanning a tiny starfish palm, he pulled my nose gently, before falling back into a deep sleep. I blinked. Blinked again. And deep inside me, something broke.
For the first time in more than a year, I felt something bigger than grief. Large, shocking bursts of shame threatened to swallow me whole. Here I was, 30 years old and wishing I could “fix and cure” my beautiful child. How pathetic and awful was that? It was like someone had doused me in ice cold water, and I’d come up for breath, gasping and taking that first sweet breath of acceptance.I remember standing on top of our large bed, hunching over and crying “Oh baby boy, my little baby boy, I’m so sorry!”
Our lives changed for the better, soon after I made my peace with the diagnosis. As I focused on more autism positive talk, Nirav mastered new skills and gained strengths. The gap between him and other “typical” children his age continued to widen, because while he made progress, it wasn’t fast enough. And that didn’t bother me anymore. At age 5, he was considered moderately autistic and therefore placed in a special education class.
Over the years, we’ve seen every type of challenge thrown at him. From a diagnosed eating disorder, to auditory processing issues; from chronic, severe anxiety to OCD; he’s gained many more alphabets in his medical file. But those are just bumps in the road. Because you see, there’re some real joys we’ve been blessed to experience. Unadulterated pride when he flew his first real airplane (yes, you read that right!). Giggles when he mastered multiplication in his head. We’ve watched him go from no words and sign language to “Amma, I want to first play with the iPad for ten minutes and then I will have a bath and put on my pajamas.” He sings now, in a clear, sweet voice and dances like a dork. After much coaxing he will play the piano for a minute, before announcing that it’s Minecraft time. Every single day, he peppers our time together with warm hugs and squeaky jokes. He loves his scooter and board games with his loud, feisty sister. Just a week ago, he snuggled with our puppy for the first time, because he’d had a rough day at school. He’s exposed us to a rich community of friends and therapists, who value him for everything he is. And most importantly, over the past 7 years, he’s shown us that marriage is easy, if you have the right person next to you. So screw that statistic!
Nirav is an excitable 9 now. He recently got an award at school, for being a model student. As he shyly collected his trophy with his long, spindly fingers, I wiped back tears and clicked a hundred pictures. He’s almost as tall as me, and that baby fat is almost gone. He’s skinnier than I’d like, because his anxiety makes it hard for him to gain weight.
But all of that is ok.
He’ll succeed where he can, because nothing beats hard work and persistence.
He’ll be all right because he’s got amazing teachers, who assume he’s competent for anything they throw at him.
He’ll be happy because he has the heart of a warrior and the cheer of a clown.
He’ll be loved because this world is beautiful and inclusive.
And he’ll do just fine, because he is exactly who he is supposed to be.
Goofy, brilliant and the exact opposite of normal. And thank Goodness, because honestly?
I would hate it if he were like everyone else.
Note: If you have a child who doesn’t quite fit the mold, worry not. Some kids blossom at their own pace. Some need extra support and patience, to shine the best they can. And a few will change the rules and break down stereotypes.
Your children are human and flawed and perfect. Because they are exactly who they’re supposed to be.