WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
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 of pestilence, 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 ... about Holland.
It's a lovely essay, but it seemed so...sunshine & butterflies. I don't know about other people, but sometimes I just wanted to rip up those tulips and stomp them into the ground. It didn't really reflect the hell you go through as you fight your way through the onslaught of information and you navigate your way through the various systems. Then I came across this gem, which I believe is more far accurate (minus the bag over my head!)...
WELCOME TO BEIRUT by Susan F. Rzucidlo
(Beginner's Guide to Autism)
"I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with autism-to try and help people who have not shared in that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this.."
There you are, happy in your life, one or two little ones at your feet. Life is complete and good. One of the children is a little different than the other but of course, he's like your in-laws, and you did marry into the family. It can't be all that bad. One day someone comes up from behind you and throws a black bag over your head. They start kicking you in the stomach and trying to tear your heart out. You are terrified, kicking and screaming you struggle to get away but there are too many of them, they overpower you and stuff you into a trunk of a car. Bruised and dazed, you don't know where you are. What's going to happen to you? Will you live through this? This is the day you get the diagnosis. "YOUR CHILD HAS AUTISM"!
There you are in Beirut, dropped in the middle of a war. You don't know the language and you don't know what is going on. Bombs are dropping "Life long diagnosis" and "Neurologically impaired". Bullets whiz by "refrigerator mother," "A good smack is all HE needs to straighten up". Your adrenaline races as the clock ticks away your child's chances for "recovery." You sure as heck didn't sign up for this and want out NOW! God has over estimated your abilities.
Unfortunately, there is no one to send your resignation to. You've done everything right in your life, well you tried, well, you weren't caught too often. Hey! you've never even heard of autism before. You look around and everything looks the same, but different. Your family is the same, your child is the same, but now he has a label and you have a case worker assigned to your family. She'll call you soon. You feel like a lab rat dropped into a maze.
Just as you start to get the first one figured out (early intervention) they drop you into a larger more complex one (school). Never to be out done, there is always the medical intervention maze. That one is almost never completed.
There is always some new "miracle" drug out there. It helps some kids, will it help yours? You will find some if the greatest folks in the world are doing the same maze you are, maybe on another level but a special-ed maze just the same. Tapping into those folks is a great life line to help you get through the day. This really sucks but hey, there are still good times to be had. WARNING! You do develop an odd sense of humor. Every so often you get hit by a bullet or bomb not enough to kill you, only enough to leave a gaping wound. Your child regresses for no apparent reason, and it feels like a kick in the stomach. Some bully makes fun of your kid and your heart aches. You're excluded from activities and functions because of your child and you cry. Your other children are embarrassed to be around your disabled child and you sigh. You're insurance company refuses to provide therapies for "chronic, life long conditions" and your blood pressure goes up. Your arm aches from holding onto the phone with yet another bureaucrat or doctor or therapist who holds the power to improve or destroy the quality of your child's life with the stroke of a pen. You're exhausted because your child doesn't sleep.
And yet, hope springs eternal.
Yes there is hope. There ARE new medications. There IS research going on. There are interventions that help. Thank God for all those who fought so hard before you came along. Your child will make progress. When he speaks for the first time, maybe not until he is 8 yrs old, your heart will soar. You will know that you have experienced a miracle and you will rejoice. The smallest improvement will look like a huge leap to you. You will marvel at typical development and realize how amazing it is. You will know sorrow like few others and yet you will know joy above joy. You will meet dirty faced angels on playgrounds who are kind to your child without being told to be. There will be a few nurses and doctors who treat your child with respect and who will show you concern and love like few others. Knowing eyes will meet yours in restaurants and malls, they'll understand, they are living through similar times. For those people you will be forever grateful. Don't get me wrong. This is war and its awful. There are no discharges and when you are gone someone else will have to fight in your place.
But, there are lulls in wars, times when the bullets aren't flying and bombs aren't dropping. Flowers are seen and picked. Lifelong friendships are forged. You share an odd kinship with people from all walks of life. Good times are had, and because we know how bad the bad times are, the good times are even better. Life is good but your life is never normal again, but hey, what fun is normal.
Now, that's more like it! It's not all sunshine & butterflies...far from it. But it has been an interesting time, and it definitely hasn't been all bad. It's been a readjustment of our hopes, dreams and outlook.
Autism really does change the way you see things. While you are always on the go (often at a frenetic pace), at the same time, you are forced to slow down while your kid obsesses over something (Do you know just how cool a dandelion puff really is? Let's twirl it around carefully, then blow or pick the puff pieces off, watch them fly, then run like heck to the next puff, and repeat until they've all been obliterated!), so you may as well learn how to appreciate those things.
How you act, how you feel, even your entire attitude, can change. It makes you grateful for the little things. It can bring out the fiercest mama bear you've ever seen. You suddenly have a level of patience you never knew you had, and at the same time, you become incredibly impatient with things that happen in the "typical" world.
The coolest thing to me has been when a seemingly jerky person will suddenly change entire demeanor when you tell him/her that your child is autistic. Usually he/she says something like "My son/daughter/niece/nephew/friend's child has autism too. I wonder why so many children are being diagnosed with it nowadays." With that, a conversation is started, and you have made a new friend. And that's almost always a good thing...