June 15, 2007

Special Needs

Here at the college we have a program where our deposited kids come to enroll in their fall classes.

Earlier one of my deposited students, S, came with her parents and autistic brother. At lunch I went over to S's table and introduced myself to her parents and chatted with her. I didn't say anything to her brother, nor did I ask about him. Later, I was talking with S and her brother was right at her side. However I never shook his hand or asked his name. I never acknowledged that he was there. I didn't really realize I had done this - basically ignored his presence - until I was reflecting on it later. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't do anything. (I would have with any other sibling.) But, frankly, I was a little afraid to.

Then I had another family come, this one for an individual visit where I would need to walk them around so the girl, M, could get enrolled, etc. She too has an autistic brother and I vowed that I would not ignore him the way I had S's brother. I found myself waiting with M's brother often as M took care of business. At one point we waited for 50 minutes and M's brother talked to me the whole time.

It was exhausting. He changed topics in a snap and spoke with great detail about helicopters, politicians and dates. I knew little of what he was talking about but I tried to follow despite his slurred speech and the speed at which he spoke. He had incredible energy, a loud voice and got closer and closer to me as he talked. He stared at my chest the whole time. By the time I was done walking them around I was so drained and overwhelmed I almost broke down when I got back to the office.

Both of these experiences have left me wondering about the families of those with autistic children. A Catholic man I studied under once said that having an autistic son has made everyone in his family better people, he is a better father, his wife a better mother and his other children better siblings, but that he would never wish it upon anyone.
I was drained after 2.5 hours with one and overlooked another. I have often thought that I am not a strong enough woman to handle having a special needs child, but after these encounters I wonder if anyone really is when it happens to them. You either get strong or die trying.

1 comment:

  1. this is one of my greatest fears as a parent. do you ever listen to this american life? we heard an episode last year about a severely autistic teenager and his family... it was heart-wrenching. i always remember a quote from the mother. she said that people would often see them in doctors' office (waiting rooms) and say things like, "oh, you are so strong. i could never do that. you are so strong." she always had a visceral reaction against such statements, she said. "yes, you could," she would always tell them. "you would do it because you had to, just like we're doing it because we have to." such a hard situation for everyone, but there was a lot of love in that family too.