Some time ago, a friend suggested that one day, when I was ready, I should share this story. I guess today is as good as any other day.
Exactly two years ago, our family’s world was rattled with the weight of a word that is defined as “a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.”
For any parent, this word is heavy enough to nearly drown you. Cam abruptly stopped communicating, engaging in eye contact, and began to retreat into a shell that felt like there was a divide the size of the Grand Canyon between us. This, I can tell you first hand, was the greatest heartbreak I have ever known. When the changes happened it was so quick, so we sought the best medical professionals in the field and came home with a diagnosis that changed everything we knew about our world.
We made the painful decision to sell our home, and leave our community, jobs that we loved, and our friends & family in Austin, TX to pursue the best intensive early intervention that could be offered. Luckily, my knowledge of autism was based on interest and love, which stemmed from teaching some of the most spectacular students I have ever known. We knew that Cam was at the critical point in his development to make the decision relatively easy. That doesn’t mean our hearts didn’t break when we left…
New York, possessing the reputation as one of the states with the best intensive early intervention services, offered us a promise of a brighter future for our son. This promise came to us via an amazing full day preschool based on Applied Behavioral Analysis as well as speech therapy and transportation needed to and from school. Cam loved getting on his school bus each morning and going to school. We ALL fell deeply in love with his teachers, who are some of the hardest working professional educators and therapists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
QSAC, Cam’s preschool, came through on the promise. When Cam arrived to NY, he was three years old and achieving one word utterances in order to meet his basic demands. “Milk.” “Snack.” “Up.” Today, Cam can look you dead in the eye, and speak in complete sentences (almost consistently) including attributes, adjectives and pronouns. Please, re-read that last sentence. Thanks. I need this to sink in.
In the beginning of this adventure, my endgame, my ultimate goal for my son was for him to become indistinguishable from his peers. I wanted him to be just like every other child. I didn’t want anyone to know or guess or insinuate that anything was wrong with him. Today, after experiencing my own ridiculous amount of growth on our adventure, I know that there IS absolutely NOTHING wrong with Cam. If you know him, you are already aware that he couldn’t possibly be indistinguishable from his peers, well, because he’s Cam!
Allow me to explain…
The other morning as he “played” his toy piano, he began to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” He stopped mid-verse and switched to “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” He began to giggle and started singing his “ABC’s.” OK, I realize that I’m a grown, educated adult and all but it had honestly never occurred to me that these three songs have the same melody. Cam figured it out, like he does. He is four years old. He also knows more about the solar system than most 12 year olds. He figured out how to count by two’s without instruction. He can learn and master most academic material faster than his teachers can teach it, and can figure out how things work faster than you can try to keep said things out of reach. Most importantly, he has a loving, affectionate and goofy heart the size of Texas… He is nothing short of magnificent.
Over the past two years, our adventures have led us through the murky seas of intervention, parenting, love and reflection. We have grown more as a family than I ever imagined possible. Between the early intervention, the exposure to the city, the ocean, and the love and support from my NY friends and family, we are in an entirely different place than we were two years ago.
This weekend, we are able to return to all of the things that we left behind in our beautiful community of Austin, where the support that we received when Cam was diagnosed has NEVER ever faltered. Such love has been sent from afar that has kept our hearts tied to a place that we hadn’t imagined we could return to. Rob and I haven’t been able to imagine anywhere we would put down our roots again, and we couldn’t quite commit to “here.” We now know, that this is probably because we already planted those roots and they are still growing where we left them.
#TeamCam (All of you, all over the world) has been the constant light in our darkness, the shoulder we’ve cried on, the support that was immeasurable and the voice that has given us the courage to press on even during the scary parts… We couldn’t have done any of this without you.
The past two years have been the most challenging, frightening, beautiful, difficult, awesome and incredible years of my life. These days, my endgame is simple. I want to give my child all of the tools and skills that he will need to become the best possible version of himself. I want to use my voice to help other parents who may have experienced similar challenges, and MOST importantly, I want to help people understand what autism is, and also what it isn’t. I want to build a community of love and support so that my child always understands that he’s got a village and they have raised him.
I want people to look at my son and truly see CAM.
I want my son to feel celebrated, supported, cherished, loved and proud of who he is. I want Cam to look in the mirror and see ALL of the parts that make up who he is. I want him to see himself and think, “I am autistic. I also have reddish hair like my mom, I’m tall like my dad and I am awesome.”
Because, if you know Cam, he really is.