When my son was a senior year in high school he was a part of the marching band, served on the loading crew, participated on UIL teams, and was the Debate Club President. In many ways, he was not unlike his peers, and I am delighted that he found so many activities that he enjoyed and so many places where he belonged. In spite of his many activities, I was quite surprised and excited to find out that he had been selected as a nominee for Homecoming King. I certainly did not expect even the possibility of it.
It is probably safe to say that most, if not all, parents would be beaming with pride and joy to have a child nominated for the Homecoming Court. So naturally, why would I be any different and why am I making such a big fuss about it? Some people may think it is from a place of parental bragging rights or some sort of assumed status, but in all sincerity, for me it comes from an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. There was a time when my son’s future did not seem to have such a wonderful outlook. It had never crossed my mind that he might be nominated for the homecoming court.
You see, when he was just two-and-a-half, he received a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. At that time, he had no communication skills whatsoever. He would not speak, he would not make eye contact, he wouldn’t even point to things he wanted or needed. And if that wasn’t enough to scare a mother of a small child, he also had uncontrollable meltdowns almost daily caused by a sensory processing disorder and our inability to understand what he needed.
Before his diagnosis, I had imagined grand things for him. I envisioned that he would be a great pastor, godly politician or honorable military leader. I dreamt of great and mighty things he would accomplish. So the news that he might never speak, might never develop social skills, might not ever be independent blindsided me in a way I never could have anticipated.
With a little time of processing this news, I came to realize that I needed to mourn the loss of my expectations for my child in order to really accept him for who he was and then become the best advocate and cheerleader for him that I could be. I might have had to lay aside my expectations but I refused to give up my hope that he might live a rich and rewarding life. One in which he would love and know love. One in which he would know purpose and be able to contribute to the lives of those around him.
It’s been a long, and often challenging process, but as my husband and I looked for ways to help meet his needs, always pushed for what was in his best interest and educated everyone who had influence in his life about his challenges, we have seen him grow and blossom. Often times it required us to nudge him just outside of his comfort zone so he could learn what he needed to and gain confidence. Of course, we had lots of help along the way: family, church family, para professionals, and many teachers have all contributed to his success. We certainly could not have done it without them. The progress he has made is truly awe inspiring. Most people who meet him now never suspect he has an Asperger’s diagnosis because he has come so very far.
So why exactly did his Homecoming nomination matter so much to me? Mostly words fail me, I feel my chest is going to burst at the seams with a joy I can not contain. There is no way to describe how amazing it is when something you thought could never be, becomes a reality. But in the simplest way I can express it, I guess it is because it is the evidence that he is well liked and sociable, that he fits in and does make a difference in the lives of his peers. It is the fulfillment of so much more than I hoped for and it is the soft whisper of God to my heart that says “See, I am not done with him yet.”
I think I will continue to believe great and mighty things for his life.
If you are in the trenches of raising a special needs child, or any unexpected challenge for that matter, it is okay to both let go of your expectations and hang on to hope. It is only when we let go of what we thought should have been, that we can embrace the beauty of what is.