–by Traci Retholtz
PUBLICATION DATE: Mar 17, 2020
To My Noah,
If I could go back to that sunny day in July of 2015, when I was the scared mother of a toddler who had just heard the formal diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, I know just what I would tell myself. Much like the Robert Frost poem, I would tell myself that this is the road less traveled. Nothing here will be familiar or expected, but there will be beauty. More beauty than most get to experience. Instead of feeling despair or fear, I would tell myself to breathe. To look at you and smile. And to focus back inward and only on you… and not the estimated predictions of others.
Eventually, I got there. That place of safety. That place of focus, blinders and peace. That place of knowing in my heart that you are simply my boy, and a diagnosis or a timeline or a judgement doesn’t mean anything at all. That is where we firmly live now… in that space of joy and confidence… and we are thriving. If I had one wish, it would be that this place of peace is where all parents of children with a diagnosis or a special need could start from instead of struggle to reach.
For the first year after your diagnosis, I was admittedly in panic mode. We were told that you may never speak. Experts told us we could expect lifelong impairment. The trauma of hearing that can do two things to a mother: it can tear her down or it can build her up. For me, it did both. I questioned every treatment. I used every service I could find and qualify for. I tirelessly researched and called and emailed specialists and clinics and programs. Then, just when we were feeling the peak of hopelessness, we found the best possible treatment provider that we could have hoped for. We found a resource who taught you, and us, so therapy could be continuous. That’s when our true journey forward began.
By the next year, I realized that you were suddenly emerging. You found brilliant ways to communicate with us. Your sounds were slowly becoming words. Nothing could have prepared me for your intellect or your humor. The way you connected with us was more powerful than what I knew love could be. Your development was blossoming on your own timeline. It turned out that the experts didn’t know anything about you at all.
Once I wasn’t so busy panicking, I had the chance to look around again, to realize how much the little things mattered. How important it was to celebrate, literally, every victory and step forward that you made. How much the sheer joy you bring us and the love we have for you was all that mattered to your Dad and me. You are, and always will be, the amazing young man that you are meant to be… and I’m so grateful that I get to be your Mom. You are limitless, you are so incredibly loved, and I wouldn’t choose any other journey in life than the one we are on together. You are simply the greatest gift of my life.
To the parents of the newly diagnosed,
Peace will come. The parents who have been in this place before you are holding you in prayer and are rooting for your child and your story. You will soon discover that “how” and “why” you got here does not, in fact, even matter although you will spend a great deal of time processing that.
Your path will be different, but you will soon discover that different is beautiful. Your circle will refine but your hearts will become full in ways you could never imagine. You will build profound resilience that you will unknowingly teach your child. No matter what happens, you will make it through… because the experience of loving your child is simply unbreakable. It will guide you. Know that your child is so blessed to have you and that you have what this will take, I assure you. Pace yourself. Take care of yourself. Protect your heart. Let your child lead the way and trust your instincts over everything else.
Most of all, honor and love the journey that you are on together as it will make all the difference.