Today's post in the Autism Awareness Month project is a special one. It is written by an attorney... who also happens to be my wife and Jack's mom.
She writes about advocacy and the stigma of being a working mom. She writes about how in watching our children grow up, sometimes we do too.
Julie has written for us before (here), and I finally coaxed her into doing it again.
This compliment might be getting old, but she is still the best thing my name has ever been attached to...
Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my treat to present Jack's mom and my wife, Julie...
What autism means to me is a lesson in judgment. Probably just the first in a string of life lessons that my son will teach me.
For most of my life, I’ve been the typical people pleaser. Even though I often argued with my mom about the best course of action, I (almost) always did what I was told. I dutifully studied hard in school. I never got in trouble. I always made sure to be nice to everyone. In fact, I secretly challenged myself to always make sure that everyone liked me. This type of reality worked for me. It made me happy, comfortable and secure.
This all changed when my son was diagnosed with autism. I remember going to a child’s birthday party soon after my son was diagnosed. Instead of playing with the other kids, I watched my son obsessively take one balloon after another from the dining room to the backyard where he released it into the air. When I tried to stop him, he screamed. I remember the looks of disdain from the other parents at the party. I remember the looks of the other kids, who were both frightened and amazed. I remember dragging Jack through the house towards the front door to leave, as he screamed and thrashed.
Incidents like this continued. Tantrums in the middle of the grocery store. Jack hitting and kicking me while I struggled to get him into a car after leaving the park. Jack yelling that he hated me in the line at Target. Me losing it and screaming at him in my loudest voice. It was my own worst nightmare. I was seen by others as a terrible parent who couldn’t control her son.
I was also the mother who worked. And not just any job, I was an attorney who worked twelve to fourteen hour days, and often times on weekends. Therapists, teachers, and even my coworkers would jokingly ask whether my children knew who I was. I was seen by others as a workaholic attorney who didn’t care about her children.
The overwhelming feeling of judgment only added to the sadness I felt for my son and his future.
This all changed in May of 2011 – Jack’s kindergarten placement IEP (individualized education program). Jordan and I were shocked when the IEP team recommended that Jack attend a special day class for kindergarten. Jordan (who never has a problem standing up for what he believes in) was the only person during the IEP that stated he didn’t want this, that he wanted Jack to be given a chance to attend general education kindergarten. I didn’t know what to do, and I felt the familiar pull of doing what was expected of me, of following the sage advice of professionals, and of not rocking the proverbial boat.
We asked for two weeks to explore our options. During those two weeks, Jordan and I talked of nothing but Jack’s future and what we thought was best. We researched. We spent hours speaking to professionals. We took tours of special day classes and general education classrooms. Finally, we decided that the best choice was to advocate for provisional placement in a general education classroom.
Instead of feeling nervous about the next IEP meeting, I felt invigorated. Advocating (something we hadn’t had to do until now) was something I knew how to do. I prepared just like I normally did for court. I prepared a binder of materials and practiced my arguments with Jordan and the other attorneys in my office. Delivering my speech to the IEP team is my proudest moment. Not because I realized that I finally had something to contribute to my son’s future. Not because all those hours in the office were finally paying off for my family. But because in that moment, I didn’t care about the IEP team’s reactions. I didn’t care that they looked disappointed. I didn’t care that they disagreed. All I cared about was what I thought was best for my child.