Valentine’s Day for our son has come in stages. In the beginning, the day didn’t phase him. Heart-shaped candy, cards, stickers and a party on the side — the whole to-do was not Callie’s thing. It was clear that he did not understand what the hoopla was all about, and it was also clear he could really careless. He watched his brothers become overjoyed about a day that they considered fun and, frankly, he saw it no different than any other day.
I was told not to expect empathy. Pretty much my child’s comprehension of emotions and capability of feeling anything was a wash when autism became a permanent resident. Developmental pediatricians painted such a gloomy picture of what life would be; like hope was never an option. No matter the season, no matter the holiday, no matter the day; the status quo would remain the same, and to think otherwise would be foolish on our part.The concept of showing love had not escaped him. “Escaped” would imply it was there before, but for Callie, even a hug was not comfortable, not appreciated and not allowed. Kisses cued an immediate wipe off and pull away, or duck at the attempt, which was an unmistakable sign that was a no-no. He would prefer you show affection from a distance or not at all. So, it’s ironic that instead of my heart feeling adoration, every chamber of this organ sent shock waves of grief, all because the mere gaiety that this day brings had been ripped from its existence.
A few years later, a little light flashed at the end of our tunnel. Fifth grade allowed us to see a change in scenery. Here students embraced my son. He had friends who truly like him for him, who did not treat him like a disability, saw him as a major asset to the student body, and saw him as equal — never less. Their fondness and our constant love slowly broke through a wall of unfamiliarity, routine and safety. He began to realize that feeling love and accepting love was OK.
My son has journeyed through years of statements dictating his future, where expectancy of any kind was not in reach. Yet without indication that change was possible, I held onto hope. I hadn’t seen it and wasn’t certain I would recognize it, but anything was better than holding on to nothing. Soon a side look became a brush against me. Then a back hug and a high-five eventually turned into a front hug, a kiss and holding my hand on his own.Whereas hugs were off limits, now swift back hugs were given. High-fives signified his openness to you being in his space — on his own terms — many times brief, but nonetheless receptive. Even Valentine’s Day that year brought a desire to participate and enjoy the festivities, unlike before when the day seemed meaningless to him.
This Valentine’s Day, his class is making cupcakes, passing out cards and taking a field trip to the animal shelter. To see him so excited is beyond what I could articulate in words. It’s an unexplainable feeling that bolts me over, and makes me mindful and appreciative of the little things, and more hopeful of milestones to come. It’s also a reminder that possibilities of the greater do exist, and even though at times we may not see it as bright as the sun, I cling to the fact that the sun is shining even when the night falls. I just have to wait with anticipation and believe the rotation will soon come in our direction.
I’ve learned that the voice of one or many, professional or not, cannot determine your child’s tomorrow. And although the voices may appear to be correct in their charge because the obstacles you face feel insurmountable, expect more. You never know what “down the road” may look like.
Thanks for listening,