Monday, August 27, 2012

GBE2: Snapshot

I sat on the floor of our small family room, snapshots spread all around me. Pictures of our older son's past. I was trying desperately to find answers.

He was just two years old at that time, a large boy with a head of white blonde hair. Doctors told us that he had autism, and while we had struggled with this child every minute of every day of his life, we had no understanding of what autism was.

Autism, that man told us. Mental retardation. Limited social interaction. A life of permanent dependence and disability.

What cold words that man used to describe my baby.

Every cold thing he said to us during the day our son was diagnosed shattered my heart into pieces, and yet I would look at that child and hear a voice inside my head that said to me, "Keep moving forward."

Forward? Where was forward?

This was over ten years ago. Even less was known about autism then than is known now. I didn't know which way forward was.

By day, I chased the child who never stopped. I tried to soothe the toddler who could not be soothed, and I fed him food which I later learned he could not digest. Then, at night, I would put him in bed with the false hope that he would go to sleep.

While he was wakeful in that bed upstairs into the wee hours of the night, I poured over every website I could find about autism in our downstairs home office.

I needed answers.

How did we end up in this awful place? Where did we go wrong?

"Look at these pictures," I remember calling to my husband one day as I sat amidst a pile of snapshots. I was trying to find a clue--any clue--as to when this autism struck our lives. "He looks so normal in all of these." My husband came into the room as I picked up picture after picture, eying each one carefully. "I never remember him being normal." My eyes filled with tears.

"I know," my husband said. "I was very careful with those shots." He hung his head. "They were brief moments captured very quickly so that we could have something normal to remember."

I looked down at a picture of our smiling boy. No pain on his face. No blank stare. He was so handsome.

I guess that is when my obsession with the perfect snapshot began, the quest to capture him doing what any other child would do, the desire to see him looking like any other child---normal.

The annual Christmas card.
School pictures.
Group photographs.

For years---absolutely for years---I would return those school pictures or dump those cards and photos if there was a hint of anything "special" visible. I thought that he deserved better. I thought that he deserved, at least on the face of a snapshot, to look normal.

Last week, I took our sons to throw rocks into a nearby canal. We are currently in our final few weeks of summer break from services before school starts in September. Breaks are hard on all of us, and I noticed our older son as he walked off alone with his hands in his ears. I followed him.

He made his way under a bridge where he could take a moment to collect himself. I stayed back, watching him be...himself.

I thought he looked adorable...

...but he's eleven so don't tell him that I used that word.

This is our son.

Years ago, I would have never taken those snapshots. Now, I love them. They have captured who he is. Years ago, I would have cringed at the sight of them and those like them because they did not look exactly normal.

Just when did I come to understand that this is his normal?
This child is one of the strongest people I know. I only hope that he can survive his mother.

This entry was written in response to a word prompt issued by the Group Blogging Experience 2 (GBE2).


  1. So funny to me that you think these don't look 'normal' because to me they could be any boy any day of the week. Boys don't look normal. Trey is handsome, intense and brilliant. He is also locked up and with your help and many others, one day, he will emerge and set your world twirling in a giant huge spiral of delight. He will communicate all that lives in his own head now, he will share all of it one day and you will truly understand his normal is not so very different. It's just busier and more complicated. I know this will happen because I can see in that beautiful face how much he has to give, as soon as he unlocks that darned communication door. It's coming, I know it is.

    He'll not only survive his mom, he'll thrive because of his mom.

    I love your dedication, your modesty and your relentlessness with the world being safe and accepting of this very special and very gifted young man.

    He is adorable, but I won't say that in front of him, I promise! ♥

  2. True that these don't scream abnormal. I chose them because it was in taking them that this thought struck me, and the pose that he is striking with his fingers in his ears, to those of us intimate with autism, is a dead give away that he's "one of us". lol. Years ago, I would not have wanted any red flags in our pictures.

    I believe in our son's future, he will find his way to communication. Either we will find what works for him or the technology will develop to meet his needs. I can't wait.

  3. this rings so true to me and some of my feelings through the years--beautiful pics :)

    1. Now I wish I had more of his original photos around...

  4. This is so touching, Amy, and I can so relate to the journey from resenting and fearing a child's disability to embracing it as part of who they are. Lovely job.

    1. I definitely feared autism, that's for sure. One ofy problems was that I saw it before I saw our son. Making that mental switch is so important.

  5. I think they are wonderful pictures of your son going about his everyday life.


  6. Trying to make me cry before I've had my 3rd cup of coffee? Beautiful. I can so relate. I remember that diagnosis day and how I wanted to yell at the developmental team telling me all the things my son would never do, and me telling them to go to hell in my head.

    I poured over video, looking for the exact moment. But I too, then realized, he had always been difficult, hard to soothe, ill tempered. Now, it just had a name. And somewhere in that labeling I found a little relief, at least I knew what direction we were headed.