Last night per usual Johnny had a hard time falling asleep. Calming his body into rest is not an easy task for him. Usually I try to deny his sweet requests for a million hugs and try to remind him it’s not the time to run, giggle, or sing. But on this cold January night, I gave in. I held him tight and rubbed his back. As I stroked his hair and kissed his forehead, I couldn’t help but think about how in three weeks time he will be turning six.
Six. Makes me a little sick to my stomach to say it. For me six represents a lot. Before we knew Johnny was autistic we knew he at least had a delay. We were told by many that we had to get early intervention before five or six to help him. We were told the brain develops 90% by age six. I felt so much external and internal pressure to get it all in by six.
I felt if I didn’t throw every kind of therapy and resource at my child I was failing him. That once he turned six, that would be it. Our fate would be set in stone.
I won’t lie. In the beginning, I believed I had to fix my son by age six and if I didn’t there was no hope.
The problem was, getting your kids those resources is not easy. We also had so much back and forth on whether or not it was autism, a developmental delay, and/or just a speech delay. No one seemed sure. So I couldn’t be sure.
I began to hope. I hoped it would all just go away. That hope became a denial in some ways. I let other people feed into that denial. They would tell us how one magical day it just clicked for their child. I held on to the hope it would happen for Johnny.
We worked with him all the time. We put him into developmental preschool at three, and by four we were sure he was autistic. It took until almost five to get a medical diagnosis. This whole time I felt sick. That deadline from the very beginning was approaching and I thought I hadn’t done enough. I somehow missed out on that mother’s intuition I should of had.
Was early preschool with their speech and occupational therapy enough?
Should I have thrown hours upon hours of therapy at him every week?
Did I fail him?
At almost five and a half, Johnny started more therapy and because of covid we opted for it instead of school. It’s been good. He works so hard at it, but he is nowhere near a typical child nearing six years old. The ticking of that countdown is coming to an end and we never caught up.
Although laying in bed tonight with my son as tears rolled down my cheeks I said “you know what bud you’re perfect. Are you happy or sad?” he replied “I not sad, I happy.” and that was all I needed.
I put this damn number six on a pedestal and now that we’re almost there, I say oh well.
In a few weeks I’ll have to walk into the doctor’s office with my kid. Circle “sometimes” and “never” on some damn milestone form over and over again. And it will sting, but oh well.
This fall I’ll have to walk my tall, almost seven year old, into kindergarten and watch as his smaller and younger peers sit and talk and work, while he struggles. And it will hurt, but oh well.
Oh well, because my son is autistic and that’s who he is. I was never going to make that go away. I can’t fix autism I can only embrace it and help my son navigate the world.
My son will probably never have a typical life and part of me is really scared by that. We work harder than most and will probably never catch up, but oh well. I can do my best to make sure my guy is happy. Our life isn’t typical, but it is full of joy and happiness.
Looking back I’m glad my son was not in therapy all day everyday. I’m glad he got to be a toddler. I’m so grateful we had resources like early developmental preschool; and for the amazing therapists and teachers who helped him. I am so happy he is learning so much in his therapy now. I honestly believe we did our best and what was right for us, and I’m so grateful he got to be a little boy.
Life has not always been easy for Johnny. He’s had to learn way more about how he ticks than most children his age. We’ve worked with him his whole life and he’s worked so hard, and today he is happy and progressing.
So yup my kid is turning six in three weeks, but that’s not the end. He’ll be six, he’ll be autistic, he’ll be different, but he’ll be happy, and I am so happy he is who he is.