From the minute we saw the first videos of our son in his Moldovan orphanage, the knowledge that something might be amiss was there. I was working in a children's hospital and had the professional advice and personal support of the staff there who could also see the signs, but like me, chose to focus on that beautiful curly haired boy in the oddly chosen pink turtleneck, gazing away from the camera and his caregiver.
Two years later, after medical intervention, speech therapy, glasses, surgery, and a move halfway across the country to be closer to family, I felt more settled into the normal that was us. Another son came home and we talked about a daughter to complete our family. In my heart, I knew we still had many different challenges than other families: I cried about them, obsessed about them, researched and hypothesized about them, but also tucked them away just a bit, and life moved on. My brother in law was diagnosed with celiac, and this was back in 2000 when "gluten free" was not usually found on your grocer's shelves. He went to a lecture about it and then informed us he'd heard that a gluten free diet for children with autism--not saying our child had autism of course--had seen good results. I practically ran to the pediatrician for a referral to a nutritionist, now certain that the key to our son had been lost in a loaf of bread. My boy was having a particularly bad day that day: perseverating, banging his head against the window, ramming his sturdy little body into mine. The pediatrician listened politely to me and said he would give me that nutrition referral, as long as I also agreed to a neurology referral. "Mrs. J.," he intoned somberly, "There's something wrong with your son." Those six words reverberated in my head for days. When I shared them with my husband he hugged me but said little; my best friend and neighbor said "Well,we kind of knew that, right?" No one heard them the way I did; the affirmation of the weight I had been carrying around for 3 years, the words in my head voiced aloud by a professional, no less, that I knew would shape the way we approached so many things pertaining to our son in the years to come.
Then came yesterday. I met with my son's guidance counselor to discuss his pre-ACT scores,which were low and disappointing to him, but not inconsistent to his previous scores on such tests. My son has every intention of going to college and we have never presented our expectations for him as any different than that, although that weight that still resides in my heart has grown heavier as he gets closer to the possible realization his future could be limited, despite his already coming so far. He hadn't had the accommodations his Education Plan allows for during this test, so his counselor advised he add about 3 points to his score. "Is that enough?" I asked tentatively. "Can he get into college with that score?"
She looked at me, surprised. "Oh Mrs. J, " she said gently, "He is definitely getting into college." I burst into tears, the six words of a professional now lifting a weight off me and setting it gently aside, no longer a barrier to his dreams.
When I shared this information with my husband and son last night, both reacted with the same "Didn't we kind of already know that" nonchalance I had faced years earlier but this time, the accompanying sense of peace was what overwhelmed me. As with previously, those six words can not change his destiny; those six words are truly just the beginning of this new journey for him and for us, just a few words in the book of our lives...but what a difference they have already made.