In the fall 0f 1999 I took my daughter Micaela to the Tri-State fair parade. She was 3 years old and had just been diagnosed with Autism. Although I had known she had a speech delay and Autistic tendencies officially getting the diagnosis was devastating. I asked the doctors, “Will she be able to talk, read, write or drive a car when she’s older”? “We don’t know”, is the only answer they could give me.
As I wheeled her stroller down the sidewalk I wondered how she would react to the sounds and excitement of the parade. She had never been to a parade before and I knew the noise and crowds might be too much sensory overload for her. I was hoping she would be fascinated with the horses or even laugh at a clown or wave back as a fire truck went by. Mostly I just wanted to have a fun time like all the families there. I remembered the excitement of a parade when I was a girl and I wanted Micaela to have the same joyful memories.
I found a spot near the curb to park the stroller and sat down beside her. “It’s a parade.” I told her. She ignored me. As the fire trucks and motorcycle cops passed she showed no interest. She was only interested in playing with the seatbelt on her stroller.
She briefly glanced at a clown when I pointed him out. I stood and held her up as the horses passed so she could see how big and beautiful they were. She screamed and cried to be put back in the safety of her stroller. She held her ears as the band went by as the music was toxic to her senses. Instead of thinking of high school pep rallies and enjoying the rhythm of the drums I found myself wishing they would pass a little faster, and be a little quieter.
Micaela is crying now and the parade is torture to her. She doesn’t understand any of it and doesn’t care. Then I see the next float, a flat bed trailer loaded with elementary age girls dressed in their cheerleading outfits. They are smiling, waving their pom-poms and yelling their cheers in perfect unison. All of the sudden it hits me and I realize – my daughter will never be a cheerleader.
The tears start flowing uncontrollably as I stand watching them pass. I start to think of all the things my daughter will not be. She will never be a homecoming queen, drive a car, or get married. There won’t be any basket ball games or slumber parties. No friends or summer camps. All the grief and all the potential of a life lost overwhelm me. We leave the parade both in tears, and I hope I do not run into someone I know and have to explain why I’m crying.
I had never given much thought to cheerleaders before. I wasn’t one myself and so it didn’t hold any particular importance to me. I never wanted my daughter to fall into a social clique –cheerleader-pretty and popular but also sometimes snotty, shallow and stuck up. I was more interested in a daughter that was smart and had a kind heart, but when faced with all the grief of what she would never be a cheerleader didn’t sound too bad.
As the years pass I still grieve at times. When her cousins pass milestones that she doesn’t it’s a reminder, but somehow it makes the small things sweeter and more precious. Now I’m pleased with small accomplishments and progress of any kind. When my daughter helps me vacuum instead of crying at the sight of a vacuum cleaner it makes me happy. When I see her sit on a horse with perfect posture, tall and confident without any fear I’m so proud of her. I’ve watched her handle many obstacles with grace.
When she was diagnosed with Diabetes at the age of 8 she faced the challenge with a good attitude. She never shed tears over the shots or cried over the finger sticks. She never felt sorry for herself, never whined or complained. She was brave and smart and quickly learned how to give the shots herself, and then I realized… she has all the attitude, charisma and enthusiasm of a cheerleader.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.