Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is There Such Thing As False Hope?

When a child is born, many hopes the parents have for their child come right along with it: learning to walk, talk, go to school, learning to read and write, to make friends, graduate, possibly go to college, marry a wonderful person, and maybe have the blessing of children. You can map out your child's life, knowing full well it's largely your job to help them get there, but you are willing to do it, because, though raising a child is a sacrifice, it's also a rewarding experience.

But suppose you were told, just a few years after your child's birth, that something wasn't right. Suppose you start noticing little things that alarm you, that spark your mother's intuition. Suppose your child is diagnosed with autism, and the doctor can't even tell you what your child will be able to accomplish. Suddenly that map of hopes shrinks down to just a few: learn to walk, TALK???, go to school, LEARN TO READ AND WRITE??? MAKE FRIENDS??? GRADUATE??? COLLEGE??? With one word, autism, you have absolutely no idea what the future holds for your child.

So now what? Do I raise this child assuming the items with big question marks are OUT of the question? Or do I raise my child, treating the question marks as they are, just questions, unanswered, but answered actually by how much effort and dedication I put into this now flipped-upside-down role as a parent?

Well, for me, I choose the latter. My daughter is high-functioning. I still have no idea if she will reach a 4th grade reading level, yet I had no idea if she would ever even learn to read, and she did. I have no idea if she will learn to write an English paper like her Mom and Dad, yet she learned to write and spell, and is improving all the time. I have no idea if she will make real, life-long friends, yet she still values and understands the idea of friendship. I have no idea if she will graduate or go to college, yet here she is, in 5th grade, doing better than she ever has in school. And, I have no idea if she will marry and have children, yet there is a special boy with autism who has already claimed her, and planning their wedding and future together.

Children with autism have a map that is more like a connect-the-dots, or fill in the blanks. We jump from milestone to setback, accomplishment to failure, but we don't give up hope. Even if at the time, a point on the map seems like a false hope, or even impossible, we move forward, believing that what they achieve is not just what we help them do, but how much we help them believe in themselves. If you are just starting out on the autism journey with your child, don't throw away your map. Leave it blank, and be ready for the ride of your life.

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