Autism is described as delays or abnormal functioning in social interaction, language as used in social communication, symbolic or imaginative play- with onset prior to three years of age. This include repetitive and stereotyped patterns in behavior interests and activities.
Some facts about autism from Autism Speaks:
Autism is in 1 in 88 of children. Autism being the fastest growing social developmental disability in the United States.
Autism costs the United States around 126 billion a year, but receives less than 5% of the research funding of less prevalent childhood diseases.
Boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.
There is no medical detection or cure for autism.
I believe that the worst thing that ever happens to a parent is when you start suspecting that your child does have autism. You start with wondering why your child is not walking when he should be walking; why he is not talking when he should be talking; and why he doesn’t play like other children do; why does he prefer lining up toys instead of cuddling and listening to you tell stories like other children do and why is he so afraid of everyday noises .
Like other parents who’ve experience having a child with autism, I ‘ve experience having my child bounced from school to school. I’ve experienced attending parties only to find myself sitting outside the party event because my son freaked out . I’ve experience more embarrassing moments than I can count with my fingers.
Everyday I wake up hoping that autism is just something you outgrow- here today gone tomorrow. I’ve experienced waiting in line for months to get a developmental pediatrician to diagnose my child. I experience anger, frustration, guilt and run the whole gamut to despair. Depending on which doctor you’ve spoken too, you hear the word autism, pdd, developmental delay and the words that damn your soul “there is no cure” or ” please accept the fact that your son may not even be able to go to a regular school”.
I could not look at my son after the diagnosis. I don’t know if it was guilt, depression or the pain of knowing that my son’s futures were dashed. From the time he was diagnosed, I stayed in my room moping , hoping that my son’s autism problem would go away like some super typhoon that hit Manila. Nothing could be further than the truth, until my husband asked me “Are you just going to lie down and do nothing?” I just remember telling him, ” why what is still left for us? We were told that there is really nothing much that we could do except for therapy (OT and Speech). What do you want me to do? ” His words made me sit up and think, can I really just do nothing?
All these years while my son was growing up, I feel blessed enough to have a supportive husband . Despite everything that threatened to bog me down, I started looking for answers to questions that lead to even more questions . This time it was no longer a question of pride or denial. I swallowed my pride and approached friends /family members and asked them to tell me if they knew of anyone who had “recovered” from their autism. I recall practically calling and knocking on strangers’ doors asking for help, advice, anything that I could do to help my son get better. It was time to act and move- this is our child we were talking about, not the textbook listing of behavioral issues our doctor had described.
There is a famous poem I often recall when I think of how our journey with our son started. I would like to share it with you. It is the poem called “Welcome to Holland”.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
I am often asked to describe
the experience of raising a child with a disability
to try to help people who have not shared
that unique experience to understand it,
to imagine how it would feel.
It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby,
it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.
You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans.
The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice.
You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.
You pack your bags and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands.
The stewardess comes in and says,
“Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland??
I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy.
All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan.
They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you
to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place,
full ofpestilence, famine and disease.
It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books.
And you must learn a whole new language.
And you will meet a whole new group of people
you would never have met.
It’s just a different place.
It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.
But after you’ve been there for a while
and you catch your breath, you look around….
and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….
and Holland has tulips.
Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…
and they’re all bragging about
what a wonderful time they had there.
And for the rest of your life, you will say
“Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go.
That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…
because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life
mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy,
you may never be free to
enjoy the very special, the very lovely things …
So if you are reading this because you have just found out that you have a child with autism, I bid you “Welcome to Holland.” Like me, you will learn to deeply appreciate the significance of your child’s first crawl, ( children like mine who do not crawl during the baby stage are children who often experience developmental delays), savor the fleeting glances he gives you, and rejoice at the milestones that he does achieve. This is not the end, but the beginning of your family’s journey.