In the five years since our daughter was diagnosed with Autism, we’ve seen just about every type of specialist there is. Determined to get her as much help as possible as soon as possible, we put her in every kind of therapy recommended from day one. Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Play Therapy, Special Education…our early parenting days were a blur of meetings and appointments, doing whatever we could to give our child the best possible chance at success. We knew early intervention was key. So, we dove right in and never looked back.
The beginning of the journey was the hardest, because the territory was unknown. Our lives were suddenly turned upside down and nothing we’d ever learned about parenting applied. Being special needs parents left us feeling isolated. We didn’t know anyone else in our situation. All we knew was that we loved her and were willing to do anything to help her. When big decisions about her treatment came, we trusted our gut and prayed our hardest. When we were right, we’d eventually see a little improvement. When we were wrong, she immediately regressed. It was terrifying, confusing and heartbreaking. Plagued by overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frustration, we were constantly walking on egg shells, waiting for the next meltdown to come and praying it wasn’t the one that broke us. It felt like a nightmare you know you’ll never wake up from…Nothing is worse than watching your child suffer and feeling helpless to stop it.
Of course we didn’t let anyone else know that’s how we really felt. We didn’t want people thinking we couldn’t handle it or that we wanted to change our daughter. So, we’d slap on a happy face and walk out the door. Everyone around us seemed to appreciate the facade. So we struggled, for the most part privately, until we met our daughter’s first full-time therapist.
She worked with our daughter in-home every week. For a while, I thought I had her fooled. I would clean up the house before she came over, make sure I looked like I’d slept some, stuff down the emotions leftover from dealing with that morning’s meltdowns…I had all my bases covered. Until she looked at me one day, took my hand and said, “I know this is hard.” That’s all it took. I felt a wave of relief rush over me. The tears came. The world was suddenly a different place. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that she didn’t expect me to have it all together, or to be strong, or to know the right answers…she simply acknowledged my pain! That moment, her willingness to step into the mess that was our lives, changed everything. I wasn’t alone anymore. I didn’t have to pretend like I was okay. She’d given me a sort of freedom that I’d never felt before. She allowed me to just be. However I was that day, however good or bad things were with my daughter, didn’t have to be hidden. They could just be.
That therapist worked with my daughter for several years and I cried the day she had to move on. Several other therapists and teachers have also come alongside us on this journey. Some stayed only a short while, some are still working with us now…helping our daughter achieve goals, learn new skills, and navigate the most difficult challenges that Autism brings her way. Thanks to their willingness to step inside my daughter’s world and patiently work with her, on her worst days just as faithfully as her best, my little girl is thriving and her life is forever changed for the better.
Some would argue that therapists are just doing their job. But the truth about these individuals is that they’re more than just therapists…they’re family. They are my daughter’s best friends. They encourage us to move forward when we can’t bring ourselves to put one foot in front of the other. They stand by our side during our daughter’s greatest struggles and share in our joy when she overcomes her greatest obstacles. They know what makes our child tick. They embrace her quirky personality and encourage her to take pride in who she is. They instruct us as parents on how to best communicate with, teach, and comfort our child when Autism would try to rob us of those blessings. They give us hope when we feel defeated.
There are no words to express just how much we appreciate all that our daughter’s therapists have done for us; how much love and admiration we have for them. But they know, better than anyone, that it doesn’t take words to say “I love you”.