Our first child, Matthew, was a much anticipated and planned-for child. We had diligently finished college, established our careers and delayed parenthood until we could comfortably afford it and until I could stay home and be a full-time mother. So much for planning for the perfect situation!
Matthew was a cute, but difficult baby from day one. He had sucking problems, followed by vomiting problems, followed by fussiness, and on and on. At one point, my husband wondered aloud if I was even “mother challenged” as I was overwhelmed and in tears at times. Because Matthew had to be held upright for 30 minutes after each feeding to reduce his chances of vomiting up an entire feeding and because he wanted to eat every two hours into toddler age, it felt as if I was always feeding, holding him or changing him. My husband was frustrated that I was frustrated.
Matthew became a patient at Children’s Hospital as an infant but it was not until he was five years old that he was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, which is lumped under “Autism Spectrum Disorder”.
At age five, Matthew was still vomiting daily, slept very little, had no fear and was obsessed with Halloween and all things spooky. We were not prepared for a diagnosis of Autism and grieved deeply for our sweet little boy. We had delayed parenthood so that we could give our child every opportunity and it pained our hearts that Matthew would not have the full, complete life as we had imagined it. We could see how much he had suffered (who wants to vomit repeatedly every day?) and were brokenhearted as we read everything we could get our hands on about the disorder.
That was eight years ago. Today, Matthew is fourteen years old. He has a delightful and unique sense of humor and is always cracking us up. He makes me stop and consider a new way of looking at things every day with his comments. He truly sees things that a typical person never considers. He has taught us the beauty of asymmetry. The insights he has given us have made us both better persons. Our hearts and minds have been expanded by being with Matthew. We are more open-minded, tolerant, and at peace than before Matthew. We have changed our opinions of what we choose to get upset over. More situations seem like “small stuff” than before Matthew.
We would never maintain that watching Matthew struggle is easy for either of us. On our bad days, we still catch ourselves grieving for Matthew. He struggles with directions, self-care, feeling confused and overwhelmed with the world of “Typicals”. He requires specialized education and has been attending after-school social skills instruction for eight years. He works very hard at things that come easily to typical people and always will. But, it warms our heart to see how far he has come. He is growing into a kind, thoughtful, honest man. He has a gentleness and pureness about him that inspires us to be more like him. He truly seems untainted by the world around us and cannot understand why people do bad things. He seems like an angel on earth.
The name “angel” means “Gift from God”. We knew exactly what name we wanted for our boy when I was five months pregnant. It took much longer to realize how perfect the name was for our son. We truly believe he is a gift and he has given us more than we can every hope to give him.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.