Thursday, January 24, 2013

Five Simple Words

I remember the waiting more than anything.  If for no other reason, I can recall virtually every moment simply because I felt exactly the same way the one time I got called to the principal's office in high school.  I felt anxious...dejected...defensive.  As my husband Bill and I sat on one side of the long, formal, highly-polished wooden conference table, I counted the seconds along with the clock that was ticking ever so loudly from the other side of the room.

Tick.  What if it's true?

Tock. We'll learn to deal with it.
Tick.  At least we have friends in the same boat.
Tock. It might be a totally different boat.  There might not even be a boat.
Tick.  Let's hope not.  I'm afraid of boats.

"I wish they'd get on with it," I told Bill, not that I really wanted to hear what they had to say.  Tom Petty's right, though...the waiting is the hardest part.

Bill and I had just spent the entire morning ushering our youngest son, Owen, through appointments with a cadre of medical professionals armed with a battery of tests.  In just under four hours, we'd seen a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, an imaginative play specialist, and a developmental physician.  Owen had been poked, prodded, measured, and tested until he was at the end of his rapidly-fraying rope.  Bill and I had been quizzed, questioned, and interviewed to the point of exhaustion.  After a much-needed (but all-too-short) lunch break, we had been called back to discuss the results of the morning's proceedings.

As the small army of professionals entered the room, I felt my chest tighten.  My heart was absolutely racing, and my breath quickened to the point that I was nearly hyperventilating.  Deep in my gut, I knew what they were going to tell us.  A mom always knows.  I'd spent the last three-and-a-half years watching nearly every move that Owen had made, trying to convince myself that there was an explanation for everything.

He doesn't talk much because his brother does all of his talking for him.

He walks on his tiptoes because he's curious and wants a better look at the world.
He doesn't respond to requests or commands because he's a bull-headed three-year-old boy.
He doesn't like to be cuddled because he's fiercely independent (just like me!)

As the doctor and therapists settled themselves in their seats on the opposite side of the table, they smiled at us with the unmistakable look of concern and understanding in their eyes.  Inside, I silently willed them not to speak.  No, don't say anything.  You know what?  I was wrong.  Waiting's not so bad.  We'll just take Owen home and work with him a little more.  Maybe we've just been lax in our care.  How about we come back in a few months and try this again?  It'll be better, then; you'll see.  Somehow, even though my heart was absolutely screaming, they didn't hear me.  Instead, the doctor slid a piece of paper to me from across the table and said the words I'd been dreading for months.  The words that seemed to shatter every expectation I had built for my son. The five words that changed our world: "We believe Owen has autism."

My heart hit the floor.

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