I sit back comfortably in my reclining chair, refusing an offer of coffee while accepting a copy of my son’s latest IEP with the words “transitional plan” in bold letters on top. He’s fourteen now, my boy, a freshman in high school if his school did traditional grades, which they don’t.
He’s in high school. It seems like just yesterday I was waiting for him to walk.
Justin’s in a wonderful school placement, has been for the last seven years. I feel very well-acquainted with the staff, and for me IEP meetings are a pleasure (don’t hate me for being happy), an occasion to thank those who work with him.
To date, there have never been any unpleasant surprises. I’m knocking on wood as I write this.
Within a few minutes the members of “Team Justin” are assembled, and we begin the meticulous process of reading through all the goals the staff has for my boy, and an acknowledgement of all the goals he has acquired since last year.
He’s made strides, my son. He can now write his name more legibly. He can wait with another person when on a “field trip” instead of running ahead to his desired destination (usually one with a carb, his mom gets it). He is beginning to vocalize more often than turning to his communicative device, and people can understand many of his hard-won words. He is learning to do chores.
That one is my favorite.
As the team digresses for a moment I take the opportunity to skim down one of the meticulously printed pages and get a preview of what’s coming next.
“Justin will use both hands to type 5 5-letter words within 2 minutes.”
“Justin will independently button and unbutton an item of clothing he/she is wearing.”
“Justin will demonstrate the ability to perform applicable instrumental activities of daily living including laundry, bedmaking, and cleaning skills.”
Yup, that last one makes me smile.
It hits me as our team finishes their tangential conversation that if anyone had told me fourteen years ago while I held my hardwon IVF baby in my arms that his freshman year of high school I’d be thrilled if he could learn how to take off a button-down shirt, I’d have been devastated. As I held my big baby in my arms I had felt flooded with hope, anxiety that I’d do this “right,” and excitement that my husband and I had finally pulled this off. We had a son. We were a family. My dreams centered around him being productive, safe, happy.
And today, he is all those things, just in his own way.
There will always be thing about my son’s severe autism I will mourn. At some point every day I remember I won’t be here his whole life, here to protect him, to comfort him, or give him his thousand hugs he requires on a daily basis. This fact is a constant source of sadness for me, one I shelve each day so I can function, and be the best mom and person that I can. If I could change this part of his autism, I would.
And yes, this will annoy some people, but this is where I stand.
But the truth is I no longer mourn the milestones he should be achieving at his age- learning the tenets of a new language; hopefully demonstrating an ability for math that mirrors his father’s, not his mother’s; generally driving both of his parents crazy.
Okay, the last still translates sometimes even with severe autism.
I’m proud of him, just as proud as if we were contemplating him driving in a few years (one horror show we get to boycott, the perks of autism!). I’m proud of his ramped up attempt at words. I’m proud of his learning how to wait (still hard for his mom.) I’m proud of his ability to hold back his frustration and use means other than aggression to communicate.
I’m proud that he’s mine.
And as I turn his statement of annual goals to the last page I acknowledge it’s take me a long time to reach this pinnacle of peace, this acceptance of who he is, of where he’s headed. It’s a work in progress for me, this acceptance of things I can’t control.
It’s one I believe I’ll be working on for the next forty years.
But in this moment there’s peace. There’s a child who’s making tremendous progress in his own way, at his own pace.
There’s a child who will soon be helping me with chores.
Productive. Safe. Happy. And in this moment, I am grateful for it all.
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