Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
Today is my son’s 7th birthday. He’s a lively, bright and imaginitive child. He loves remote controlled cars, movies and, well, the movie Cars. He loves to cuddle, sneak chocolate and he’s a pro at parallel parking his gocart. He’s great with animals (see picture above) and can express himself really well when he wants to.
And yet, some things come less easy to him than to other children.
It was my sister and my mother who first noticed these signs of something being a little different about him when he was younger. I think they started telling me about it when he was about 3 or 4, way before I was ready to conceive of the idea that my son might be slightly different. But the challenges didn’t go away. Going to school was difficult at first, and often still is. He sometimes feels unsafe, the larger groups are not easy to navigate and mostly, he just wants to stay home. Every day. He can have trouble with eye contact yet will often randomly bump into people as well.
It was only when his teacher started noticing that he required a different approach than the other children, and told us about his behaviour in class as well, that I slowly came to terms with the fact that this was perhaps not something he would ‘grow out of’ eventually. I slowly learned to accept that he was, well, different.
And still. Whenever someone urged us to – perhaps, maybe, why not – seek some kind of support or advice, I resisted quite strongly. For one, I didn’t want to feel like I couldn’t handle my own son. I think I know what he needs, and can mostly provide that within our limited circumstances (I can’t give him the father he misses so much due to the distance between our homes, which is heartbreaking). I know what works and doesn’t work in which situation. I know when to be firm and when to give loads of empathy (if I can, that is. I, too, have my limits). And it’s not at the same times as when my daughter needs those things.
But I was also afraid of putting a label on my son that would stick. Something he would carry with him his entire life. What if they did find out he has autism? What if they find signs of ADD? What if they discover another developmental issue? How would he feel about it in years to come? How would others react to him if they knew? Would he still be given the chances and opportunities that would help him reach his full potential? Would others still see what is there rather than only what isn’t?
These concerns have not gone away, but when we were deciding on whether to let our son start in the first grade last school year, we contacted a center which performs developmental tests to help us decide. They didn’t get back to us before we had to make up our mind (he stayed in Kindergarten for an extra year), but they contacted us again last March, and we set up a series of tests. The last one of these was yesterday, and we hope to meet with the full team of therapists in a few weeks to discuss their thoughts.
What made us change our minds? The fact that being different, having difficulties with something and not getting any support or acknowledgement for it, seemed more damaging in the long run than learning how to live with that challenge.
The fact that there are therapies that only become accessible once it is clear what your child needs, not only in oral agreement but also on file, on paper. I think most of all it was the team of the therapy center that showed us with how much love and care they help children who need a bit of extra support, for whatever reason it may be.
Accepting my son for who he is, with all his magical quirks, is also incredibly liberating. It frees me to really love him fully, and truly unconditionally. I can let go of expectations that don’t match his personality or abilities. And I can’t be anything but incredibly proud of the boy he’s already grown into in these 7 short years.
Thank you, my sweet boy, for choosing me as your mother. ❤