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Newsletter for April 2012


 Katherine - Schenectady, New York

I believe in unconditional love. The bond I share with my autistic son Michael teaches me how big love is. The dream that my two year old son would “out-grow” his apparent lack of connection with me, his withdrawal from family activities and communication was not coming true. Michael spent his hours rocking from foot to foot or scratching on surfaces; his blue eyes staring blankly. I was distraught when he continuously turned away from me; stiffened from my eager attempts to hug him; to touch him! How could I offer love to my child if he refused to let me hold him? What relationship could we have if he wouldn’t accept my offers to care for him?

I wasn’t prepared for the long awaited diagnosis of doom; the one that no parent wants to hear. In November, l971, after an exhausting day of interviews and head to toe medical and psychological evaluations for Michael, I braced myself to hear the Doctor’s life-sentence! “Your son Michael is mentally deficient with possible autism. Don’t break your neck to “fix” him. You can’t put neurons in a brain like his”. My legs went limp as I struggled to lift myself off the clutches of this Doctor's couch. I was told not to hope. Surely I couldn’t fix my son or force him to respond to love on my terms. I just wanted a relationship with him.

After that cold, November diagnosis, I was determined not to abandon my dreams for a relationship with my son. I was desperate to enliven my beautiful, distant boy. I would learn all I could about Michael’s world. I wanted to be with him. I couldn’t depend on hugs and give-and-take playtime with Michael. I would have to move beyond words like ”normal”, “socially appropriate” and thoughts like :”What did I do to cause this isolation in my son’s life?” I would not relinquish HOPE. I learned how to love my son differently; creatively honoring his boundary of emotional safety and physical distance. That was the hardest. For many months I followed Michael around our house, rocking from foot to foot with him, knocking and scratching on walls , sneakers and stereo speakers. Michael and swayed for hours every day on his teeter-totter. And at mealtime I recited poems about foods! All the while I was present for my son in his space without expecting him to be present in my own. Always with hope. Creating different ways to teach, to learn and to love inspired my 25 year career in teaching special education students.

And then one glorious afternoon in late July, one week shy of Michael’s third birthday, he and I climbed into our above-the-ground swimming pool. Spontaneously, I lifted his resistant body toward the sky, tossing him into the splashing air. For an instant, he looked down directly into my eyes and laughed a belly laugh that floods my heart even today. We connected in a joyous, genuine union. My dream.

A laugh, a blink of eye contact; these may be small things for some. But for Michael and me that day, our pool became a sea of possibilities for more joy.

Each day I try to bring Michael’s smiling, perseverant spirit to my High school students. Who knows? If I continue to honor children with my whole heart in their space, they’ll believe, like I do, in unconditional love for themselves and for each other.







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