Parents of children with autism exist in a world unlike the one we call Earth. A world where we vacillate between cynicism and fantasy, denial and realism. All too often, when the pendulum swings to the negative side of our “planet,” we recess into the dark, terrifying chasm of hopelessness. It is then that we are transported via our minds to Neverland.
Neverland, J.M. Barrie’s literary creation, was a place of eternal youth - a place where aging halted and childhood was prevalent. But for us, Neverland is quite a different place. Not only are we often forced into a realism that ages us quickly, we also forget what childhood is supposed to be like. We lose our ability to be childlike, and our joy is covered with a film of guilt and pain. All we see, hear, and think is never.
He’ll never talk. She’ll never marry. They will never live on their own. We’ll never be out of debt. I’ll never make it as a single mother/father. The school will never understand. Modern medicine will never find a cure. We’ll never be able to retire. My family will never “get it.” He’ll never go to college. She’ll never get a job. And perhaps the worst, they’ll never have friends. And the ominous list goes on.
Perhaps the remedy to living in this land is in leaving it. Permanently. We do not, our nature being human, know all the details in the future of our children. There are some “maybe, probably, possibly” statements that hold truth; there are even “definitely” declarations that can be made, barring a miracle occurring. But to create a picture with too broad a brush dipped in Neverland paint is not something we can do without reasonable doubt. So, why do we make such declarations so often?
Some try to face the truth, come to terms, and accept the autism; of course, we already accept our children. We love them as they are. They are our joy.
But too often, we forget the miracles we’ve already seen – the everyday accomplishments that others take for granted. They are all around us, but sometimes we’re looking through “never-colored” glasses and can too easily miss them.
He tied his shoes. She wrote her name. He hit the ball. She used sign language to say she loved me. He said “Mama” today. She dressed her doll. He hugged me when I was sad.
So many things that experts deemed not possible when our son, Cowboy, was a toddler, we now know are possible. They were wrong; I was wrong. He does show emotions. We have a connection with him every day. He calls several of his peers his friends and likes spending time with them. He learns, laughs, and loves. Above all else, he is joyful.
There was no “window of opportunity” for helping Cowboy that slammed shut when he reached a certain age. There is always time for more learning and growth - that cannot be stifled by all the inhabitants of Neverland.
A wise counselor once told me that we should take the words “always” and “never” out of our vocabularies, because every time we say “always” or “never” in a sentence, we are stating something that is not purely true.
There are, however, some exceptions: Cowboy will always continue to amaze us, and he will never stop teaching us about life.