I just got back from my son’s special education meeting and it couldn’t have gone better. How great was it? So great that I came right home and scrapped the post I had written about the importance of morning routines in favor of typing out this one.
These meetings can be overwhelming and, depending on the current situation, depressing. There are twelve professionals (and me), all with his best interests at heart, around a giant boardroom table. Each one of us takes turns speaking about Lucas and his progress. For the most part, there is a lot of missed goals and work that needs to be done. This year, though, felt very different.
My boy is having the best year ever. It has been so wonderful, in fact, that the special ed supervisor said he has made some of the most amazing progress she’s seen in twenty years of both public and private school work. Everyone was complimentary and glowing with praise. They applauded the effort put in at home and we all recognized just how outstanding Lucas has been since September. The term “like night and day” was said a few times.
That simile best applies to my own personal worry and if this is the day, then last year was the night. Things got pretty dark and, at one point, we thought we’d have to remove him from his current school and place him in one specifically for children with Autism. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that is where he needs to be, but deep down I was hoping he would return to the slow but upward trajectory he had been on in years prior. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but my little guy was slipping hard and, since he’s non-verbal, I couldn’t just ask him why. That’s been a common theme with him and me.
So, they shortened his schooling to half a day and started sending an in-home therapist to work with him. It felt as though I’d put him on the bus, make a cup of coffee, look at my watch, and then get him off the bus. It was a whirlwind, but within a few months, he had started hitting his goals…and then more goals…and then even more. By Halloween, he was already back to being on a full day – at their request, no less.
I’m ecstatic about this. I wanted to tell you guys. Heck, I wanted to tell everyone. From family to friends to the ice cream man, everyone needs to know this wonderful news. My son is pushing forward and being the best he can be. He may not be speaking or on the level that others would consider important for their own children, but for Lucas, he’s above and beyond where he was a year ago.
The problem with sharing this news, though, is that I know what it’s like when he’s not at that level and how others reading might be in the spot we were in last year. I know what it’s like to feel doubt and fear. And I know what it’s like to read glowing reviews about other children reaching goals that he isn’t. I know how it can hurt.
The thing, though, is that it’s not about the achievements you’re bragging about with your kid, but how you do it. I can honestly tell you that, while I’m so proud of my son, I’d love him just the same if he was still struggling like he was last year. I know because I did. I was there during his lowest points and the feelings I had for him were the same that I have now. That never changed.
The theme of this isn’t how he was “rescued” or “saved”. It’s not about “pulling him from the abyss”. It’s about recognizing his effort and being thankful for the work he put in.
As the father of a non-verbal child, I can sense the pride of another parent when they say that their son or daughter has said their first words after many years of delay. You see it all the time online. It’s a video of kid, maybe five or so, saying “daddy” or their ABCs. The parent is over the moon. They’ll write:
Joseph said his first words today! We’re so proud!
And I’ll smile.
Then they’ll say:
After years of pain, praying for this moment, it has finally come true. I am so happy that he is not doomed to a life alone in his…
Blah, blah, blah. Then I stop smiling. And then I stop reading.
Look. Speaking and learning is great, but those aren’t the only things that makes your child someone you should cherish. My child might start speaking tomorrow, but that doesn’t make everything he did today any worse in comparison. You don’t have to insult who your child was before they made progress in order to explain why you’re happy with who they’ve become after.
Let’s be honest here too. What my son has done was for him. He’s the one who will benefit from his recent leap forward. What it does for me is alleviate some of the stresses I might have had for him as a person. It doesn’t make me any better as a father and it doesn’t make him any better as a son. It just puts him further along his journey. I wanted him to do this, but, as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I didn’t need him to do it. I’d love him no matter who he is.
Make no mistake. If he suddenly stops tomorrow and begins sliding down the chute rather than climbing the ladder, I will still be just as proud to be his dad. The same can be said if he suddenly starts reciting poetry. I’m love him more than any boy on Earth and I always will. I love him simply because he’s mine. Everything else is just window dressing.