In the midst of talking to a student about applying for numerous fellowships and graduate school programs, I paused and asked:
"What if your child has something wrong with him?"
It is not a question that I have heard at all recently and I cannot even remember if I was asked this specific question over nine years ago, when I was expecting Charlie and when Charlie was a baby. I do remember taking the test to see if our unborn Charlie had Down's Syndrome and---I could feel him kicking and back-arching, already---thinking, "Well, of course I'm having him, whatever the test results." I do know that I knew 100% nothing about autism back ten years ago in the fall of 1996 and the winter and spring of 1997, and that there would have been a downright uncomfortable silence if someone had asked me "what if that 'something wrong' is autism?"
This morning I had come across a list of 6 Facts You Need to Know About Autism from Parents.com. I could imagine my nine-years-ago-self skimming the questions and finding way to say "that's not Charlie" about each of them: Famous last words. I am sure, back then, I was engaging in magical thinking, always finding another way to explain away Charlie's not doing X and Y until that awful moment when a parent sees what she has been denying.
Something is wrong. And the planned array of possibilities is sorely, terribly lacking for the reality before you.
I should say that, while that moment can be awful, it also can be one of true relief, when you finally know that there is a name for what your child has, that there is hope in quantities, that you will see your child who doesn't have this, that, and the other skill acquired, ask you for help opening a container of cantaloupe, curl up behind you on the couch and press his face and feet onto you when you are home from work, and steal a certain light brown sweater to twist in his hands, grinning. Charlie had had a happy visit to the aquarium today with my parents---they noted how much he seemed to be taking in as they walked under a shark tank and got up and close with a hippopotamus---and an ABA session with the therapist who always greets him with "hello, my friend" and who Charlie will miss after his last session tomorrow (said therapist---Charlie's first guy therapist---is studying to be a teacher and his own school schedule of classes has changed).
That is, the 7th fact to know about autism is that life raising an autistic child can be very, very good. It will be different; you may find yourself scheduling EEGs not soccer game practises; you may find yourself doing things you thought you could not do---quitting jobs, moving halfway across the country and into the basements of relatives. You will know, it is all worth it, and then some; that it is an honor to be the parent of such a lovely boy and to be charged with taking care of him.
You will find you have answers and hope.
To break the silence, I quickly said to my student, "But there's lots of things you can do," and he was quick to mention jobs that he could apply for and other alternatives.
"I just had to ask," I said.
"Of course," said the student.
Possibilities shine, if we can only know to see them.