On the Autism Spectrum

This week I talk about the latest chapter in our journey: nine months ago, our daughter was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Our little girl has faced and overcome a lifetime’s worth of challenges in her four short years. Abandoned as a newborn in a Rwandan village, she spent the first nine months of her life in an orphanage where they didn’t quite figure out she was deaf. We brought her home and discovered she had total hearing loss, then she had cochlear implant surgery before she turned two.

So there are lots of very valid reasons why her development has been delayed. But eventually we, and some of her workers, began to wonder if there was more at play. It was  February when we officially heard a psychologist talk about autism.

We’ve wrestled for a while on how to tell this part of the story, or whether to tell it at all. Given all our daughter has already gone through, we don’t want another “label” attached to her.

But ultimately I think it’s helpful to talk about it, both for us and potentially to other people too. I’ve had a wide range of people thank me for today’s column–from other parents of kids with autism to people who just found it meaningful to hear.

One of the highlights for me today was a local mom who shared her own family’s journey with autism. She wrote about it here.   It’s honest, deeply moving and ultimately hopeful.

And we’ve learned so much in the past nine months. Not only about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and about our daughter, but about how to be better parents. I’ve learned things that help me with each of our other kids.

Some days are still frustrating and exhausting. (Though many days our daughter is actually our easiest kid–we didn’t exactly produce low-maintenance offspring.) But it’s a joyful journey too.

There was a day, late in our adoption process, when everything fell apart. We’d just received our future daughter’s picture a day earlier, we finally knew what she looked like, and then we got late-breaking news from Rwanda that made it seem like we wouldn’t  get to meet her at all.

I was praying that night, trying to figure out what was going on, and at some point this not-humanly-rational thought hit me clearly and wouldn’t let go: “This is your daughter. And she is going to change your life forever.”

It was true. And it’s truer every day.

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