A couple of years after my daughter was diagnosed with autism, a well-meaning acquaintance said to me, “God must think you very strong.” It was one of those comments you wish the person hadn’t said. I understood they meant well, I understood it was some sort of convoluted compliment, I understood they meant to be something like supportive, but it felt awful. Least of all because I have never gained any solace from the existence or non-existence of the G-word, but mostly because of its obvious prejudice to those who are Autistic. The person then followed that sentence with this next one, which was like a second jab to the solar plexus. “I could never handle an Autistic child.” I stood there in stunned silence.
At the time I think I probably looked away and tried to untangle the multitude of feelings that surged through me. But today, now years later, I have a couple of things I want to say. Let me tell you about my beautiful, perfectly wonderful, very human, child. She is like the sunlight that glimmers off the leaves of an Aspen tree. She is that first ripple that appears on a crystal clear lake, extending outward in ever-widening arcs. She is the sound of rain on fallen autumn leaves, she is the smell of sage brush after an electrical storm, she is the glimmer of morning sunlight when it first appears rising up over snow capped mountains, she is imperfectly perfect and a gift and yes, a blessing. And if I’m going to be completely, utterly selfish, I must say this: she has taught me more in her short eleven years of existence than any book, spiritual leader, graduate class, academic study or person I’ve ever read, listened to or met.
I know Emma’s life will have challenges because of her specific neurology. I know she will often have to fight harder, prove herself more often, work more doggedly and persistently than her non Autistic peers to accomplish things that many do not even consider accomplishments, but assume are a given. Yet there are some things she can do and will learn to do that will be easier for her than many of her non Autistic peers. I no longer see autism as a road block, but more as a different road all together.
Every morning I wake up filled with gratitude for my family. But it is my daughter, my beautiful, beautiful daughter who has introduced me to a world I never knew existed. A world that is beyond anything I could have imagined, a world filled with other Autistic people who enhance my life and the world on a daily basis because of their existence. Emma has taught me the true meaning of gratitude. She impacts my life in ways I will never be able to fully describe or express. Gifts are like that. Strength has nothing to do with receiving gifts. It does not require strength to see the good in others. It does not require anything actually.
That is another lesson my daughter has taught me – the beauty in being.
Em testing out her new pogo stick. Her record? 62 bounces.
- Reflection (whereartandlifemeet.com – Ariane’s other blog)