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Dec
29
2010

The Endless Cycle


It is that time of year again - the holidays, Christmas, New Year's - when your whole world seems to be united in their hopes that next year will be better than the previous one.  With the economic catastrophe that the United States has undergone for the past three or more years, the hope springs brighter than ever.  I, too, have an annual ritual of writing down the things that went both right and wrong in the previous year and my goals for the upcoming twelve months.

The cycle of birth, death and renewal of a new year is somewhat comforting - knowing that, no matter how bad things have been, you always have another chance to make them right if you can just hang in there for a few more weeks or months.

With a special needs child, that cycle is compressed, exaggerated, extended and stretches out into infinity, just like the passing of time.  You start out with a perfectly healthy and normal child, then receive the diagnosis of whatever it is that your child must endure for the rest of their lives.  Your old life is dead but you have a chance to start over, using new routines, new practices and new methods to ensure your child's success and health.

Then, let's say your kid, like mine, has autism.  You watch your child's repetitive behaviors in their youth and you struggle with therapists and counselors and schools to get them to behave in a way that won't be offputting to their peers.  Eventually, through hard work and struggle, your child learns to control some of the more obvious actions and begins to blend into their surroundings in a less suspicious way.  Your and your child's old life is now dead, but in a good way, and now you have a chance to start over with new friends and new people and plan how things will be better than before.

Then, your child gets into a mainstream school and, luckily through the help of the school district, receives a shadow, who helps them with their schoolwork but makes them stick out from the other kids, creating discomfort and unease and a sense that they're really not normal.  So, through more years of struggle and education, you eventually wean your child from the assistance of adults and exult in their independence when they can manage a school day on their own.  Your and your child's old life is now dead and you can march on to a brave new world of opportunity, creating expectations you never dreamed possible.

Then, your child gets out of school and needs to get a job - but you understand my point, don't you?  It never stops. While I don't doubt that parents of "normal" children experience the same cycles, when your child has special needs, and the cycles are so dramatic, and so continuous, and have such a drastic effect on your child's life, it seems that every tic you conquer, or every friend who stays through the whole play date, or every page of math homework done without a tutor can be the precursor to a whole new universe that you never deemed possible.

It can be exhausting, that's true.  But, prior to my child being born, my biggest concern was whether I could 20 lbs.  And how much excitement do you really get out of that?



Margaret Messner



     




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