There's nothing like blubbering to a room full of strangers to make you feel like you've totally lost a grip on things. I should know because that's what I did last Thursday. I am now part of the local Advisory Committee for Special Education and was asked to give a three minute presentation to the State Advisory Committee about the need for more ABA training for the teachers in our state. Easy enough, right? I was also asked to pepper in some details about Oliver and how helpful his ABA program has been. Also, very easy, you think. I practiced, revised, practiced again and thought I had a fairly good presentation ready. I was only anxious because -- as my graduate school friends will tell you -- I typically look like I am having some sort of seizure if I actually have to speak in public. I turn red (all of me -- not just my face), my voice shakes, I perspire heavily, I don't breathe often enough. It isn't a pretty sight. Only this time I hadn't counted on the emotional factor of actually talking about Oliver and his autism to a group of strangers. I had to stop three times to regain my composure. At one point the lady next to me even asked if she could finish for me!
But I did finish and afterwards I was surprised by how many people came and told me that they still got emotional when talking about their children who were now much older than Oliver. A small group of us gathered in one corner of the room at the conclusion of the formal activities and talked for more than ninety minutes about topics ranging from hiring an ABA consultant to respite care to diets and sleep. It was really uplifting.
Then, I walked to the parking lot with another mother from our local board. This woman recently sent her son, now 17, to live in a residential program because his aggressive behaviors had gotten to the point where she, a single mom, couldn't handle them any more. On the short walk to the car she told me about her battles with the previous director of special ed., about uncaring and non-supportive teachers, and about the struggles she faced during her child's time in the city schools. The new director, she assured me, is a breed apart; someone who really cares about making things work for the children. And she joined the committee to help make the system better so that other familes might benefit from her experience. The thing that has really stuck with me about this woman's story is that she adopted her son when he was 6 years old and at that time must have wondered if she would always have to take care of him. Now, 11 years later, it was clear that not being able to take care of him was the hardest part of her journey through motherhood.
As much as I hate speaking in public I will say that Thursday night reminded me of one thing: Everyday we challenge Oliver to do things that are hard for him and so the least I can do is challenge myself on his behalf at least as often; and in the end, we're all better people for it.