Remember the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? If you’ve seen that movie, you do.
Well, this is a little bit like that.
No, there’s no beachfront landing nor are people dying around us but there is an extended period of hearing loss a few minutes after we land in that little office in Pomona. People shift in their chairs and their lips move but the sound is muted; not even my heart beat registers. I’m under the impression that when there is complete silence, one can hear his or her heartbeat. I want that comfort.
“I’m sorry. I know you were talking here but I don’t know what was said. I want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing; we’re supposed to wait a couple of weeks for a representative from the regional center to call us and, in the meantime, turn this paperwork into the school district so that we can make sure that Paul is registered for Special Education classes?”
Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s July 29th, 2015 and my wife and I are told that our son is Autistic. What do I know about Autism? I know little and I have questions. How hard will Paul’s life become? How hard will our lives become? His sisters lives? What does this entail as far as school is concerned? Does he have a shot at a normal life? Why can’t I hear what is happening? Why can’t I hear a sound? Why am I in tears?
I’m in tears because I’m proud. My pride blinds me to the idea that there is something different – not wrong, different – about my son and this difference is significant. My pride constricts logic and reason. It prevents the benefit of Paul’s early diagnosis from reaching that part of my mind that knows this diagnosis is a good thing. Pride is that gateway to fear, denial, and anger – those three brothers that so easily slip depression over my head like a comfortable cap. My pride is there to tell me that everything is wrong and that this is about me. That is why I cry…because my hurt pride empowers me to be selfish.
The realization of that selfishness helps dry the tears and diminish my pride.
I don’t know whether or not people need to know but writing helps me see that misplaced pride and not fall into depression. Our friends are tremendous…for me, anyways, as I’m not handling this well and they know me well enough to see the pride threatening to corrupt me. Of the friends I have, the ones whose lives have been touched by Autism are caring and strong. Whether through support or simply an encouraging word, they’ve been instrumental in helping me focus and, if they didn’t before, now hold a special place in my heart.
Paul is 3 and smiles a lot. He likes to high-five people – when they put a hand up to him. He hugs and kisses people – when cajoled. He speaks – mostly repeating what he hears said to him. He likes to play in the water and run and, man, can he run. Oh yeah, he loves The Iron Giant, Thomas the Tank Engine, Phineas and Ferb, and Doctor Who – playing with the Funko Tardis that his Nino bought for me as a collectible. He is a child, the same as his sisters were before him…only different, you know? Aside from having a penis he is autistic.
The truth is, we knew something was different in that shaggy head of his. Too many sleepless nights and incoherent commands to not acknowledge the possibility of an issue – at the very least, a speech issue. Too many examples of fearlessness for him to actually be aware of fear versus not understanding why he should sometimes be afraid. Still, we’re not prepared for this…to hear the diagnosis delivered to us; the jargon used by psychiatrists and a counselor is a smokescreen and leaves us unaware of what we are in the midst of.
This is here so that I remember (as if I could forget) what goes on these first days of Paul’s diagnosis. How I’m told that this “affects those around him more than it affects him” or how “it is all according to God’s plan” – My hatred of hearing both of those statements subsides as each day passes. How we ‘hurry up and wait’ because the school district that we submit his paperwork to does not return its Special Education personnel until mid-August. How even then, we must go through another round of tests so that, hopefully, he can enroll in Special Education preschool classes by October – almost 4 months after his initial testing began. How life changes for everyone…
Most important though, I write this so that I remember how every time I look at my lovely, little boy and he smiles at me, he knows that I love him. How I love him so very much.