I remember the day my world changed forever without even knowing it at the time. I had finally made it to a very long-awaited appointment with the neurological department of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We had waited over a year to finally get in front of a development pediatrician at my family doctors recommendation. Candidly, I didn’t even really know why I was there. Eric was only 2 years old then, and as a young first time mom, I had no sense of comparison as to what was considered “normal” in the way of a developing young child. Besides, is that even such a thing? This would be just another “checkup” where they would tell me he was a little behind and that to give it some time. I was 23 at the time. A promising career ahead of me, a healthy and beautiful baby boy to support, my dreams for our lives couldn’t have been surpassed even by highest the star in the sky.
The waiting room was sterile. There was a hazy and dark overcast with nearly no natural sunlight peering in. The ceilings were so high they seemed to be a void in the world. The seats were all empty, with no receptionist at the desk. The only indication of being in the right spot was the sign “SeaShore House” at the entryway. I sat there, with my mother and Eric, hoping that after a year-long wait I had even come to the right place. Bubble mirrors on the walls kept Eric occupied while we waited. “Eric?”, a faint voice called from seemingly nowhere, to a nurse finally appearing to guide us back.
I couldn’t get over how desolate it looked. It was if they had shut the place down just for us to get there and be their science project for the day. As we were guided down the halls, dark office after dark office, we were finally brought to another waiting room.. or so I thought. Toys were strewn across the room, and a friendly young girl met us with her clipboard in tow. “I’m going to just play with Eric for a little bit, is that ok?” she asked. I agreed, not knowing why playing with him would be very relevant.
And then, it began. “Eric, look over here!. Eric, can you roll the ball? HI Eric, look at me! Eric, can you stack the blocks? Eric, can you high-five? Eric can you smile?” The questions and requests seemed endless. After each one she would without a hint of debate go to her clipboard and check a box. “Mom, we need to go over some questions with you. If you could, let us know a yes or no answer. Can Eric mimic your facial expressions? Can he mimic the sounds you make? Does he have any words like Mama or Dada? Can he follow two-word instructions? When did he first sit up? When did he first start crawling? Does he have appropriate emotional reactions? Does he make eye contact? Did you have difficulty during labor? Can he hold up two fingers if you do? How about three fingers? Does he play with toys appropriately?” The questions seemed never-ending. Each one making me realize there were so many things he COULDN’T do.
After nearly two hours of interrogation, Eric and I were led to separate rooms. I remember walking into the room to meet the developmental pediatrician. Maybe it’s just the way my brain has remembered the day, but walking into that room I swear it reminded me of when a criminal walks into an interrogation room and the detective is sitting staunchly under a slowly rocking dim light. Without warning or any prelude to the news to come, she said “Eric has classic Autism. He will need intensive speech and occupational therapy. We will need to evaluate him again in a year. Prepare yourself that he may never talk, and that he is very likely going to need everyday support for the rest of his life.”
At this defining moment of not only my life, but my 2-year-old sons life, I didn’t know it at the time but I know it now that God held me in that moment. I didn’t feel the gravity of the words coming out of that doctors mouth, and left there with conviction that I was walking out of that hospital with the same kid I walked in with. Nothing they said, or predicted, mattered. I had no frame of reference to what was “normal”, Eric was MY “normal” and we would be just fine.
Thirteen years later, I still hold out hope that Eric will one day say “Mama” or “I love you”. But does it really matter? So much in life is unspoken. I’ve learned to feel his needs, to feel his love and to appreciate the fleeting moments of connection we have. Now, with a younger brother who is developing “typically” I can see how the diagnosis could have crushed me if I had a frame of reference before Eric was diagnosed. God knew that I was meant to have Eric not only as my first child, but at an age where I was so naïve that I couldn’t even absorb such a lifelong prognosis.
It feels almost selfish to get to see the world through his eyes. I feel so blessed to have him. He is a daily reminder that sometimes, you should just laugh. And sometimes, you should just cry. You may not always need a reason, but that it’s ok to have emotion. He has taught me that you don’t need much in life to be happy. He has taught me what love truly is.
The dreams I had when I walked into that room when I was 23, have changed. I believe we all hope that secretly God has chosen us to do something special. I think its natural to want to make an impact on the world, and leave it better than you found it. God gave me Eric when he did because He knew I was ready. He knew that He could use me and that this would shape me, or so I’ve convinced myself, for a greater purpose than I alone could have envisioned for my life.
Why have I met those I have? Why do I have the career I do? Why did I move across the country after 33 years in my hometown? Why does Eric have Autism? Why was I given Jack 10 years later, who shows me all of the things I didn’t even know were “normal” before he came?
Everyday I question my purpose, like many, but have found faith in that I know there is meaning and that the story will unfold in its own time. Over the course of just the past 9 months, after making a decided decision to embrace my passions to help the special needs community, it is nothing short of divine intervention at work in my life. The right people, the right places, the right timings, .. all because I surrendered and accepted that God is in control and knows when the time is right for everything to happen.
While life has its dark moments, even those that are debilitating, all we can do is to try to find the silver lining. It’s always there, but in the moment can be so buried you will not see it. Sometimes, like in my case, it could be thirteen years later when you come to find that in all its irony.. God’s timing is never wrong.
I, am a blessed woman.