Last night, as I lay awake staring at the ceiling, I realized that it has been exactly a year since Danny was diagnosed with high functioning autism. I am surprised at how quickly the time has passed, since hearing the diagnosis made me feel like the world was ending.
I remember how it felt like being punched in the stomach when the doctor said that no, Danny did not have PDD-NOS, but rather autism.
Autism. The word I had been dreading.
My sister came with me for that diagnosis and she held my hand and vainly tried to hold back her tears. She wasn’t surprised by the verdict — I don’t think anyone really was — but that didn’t make it any easier for either of us to swallow.
I felt strangely defensive and protective of Danny. All I wanted to do was put my arms around him (though he probably wouldn’t have let me) and shield him from the cold, hard, dismal place that the world had suddenly become. Though I am sure he had no idea what the doctor was talking about, I wanted to make things all better for him. I wanted to give him treats and shower him with love.
Instead, we took him to Subway for lunch, where Danny gleefully pronounced to my sister that he loved pickles. The worker making our sandwiches must have heard him, because as I was paying, she said to me with a smile on her face, “I added some extra pickles to your son’s sandwich, because I heard that he liked them.”
Though my sister had to fight back the tears in the doctor’s office, I had been strangely calm and composed. But when that worker performed that tiny act of kindness for my son, I could barely stop myself from bursting into tears. I’m sure she wondered why I thanked her so sincerely.
What she didn’t know, though, was that somehow, she had given me a small gift, a little bit of hope to cling to, that maybe, just maybe there will be other people in this world who will treat my son with kindness. That not everyone out there is cruel to those who don’t necessarily fit in. That maybe things would be okay.
I don’t exactly know why, but I still tear up at the memory. Maybe it was just that after all the clinical autism-speak by the doctor, it gave me comfort to have Danny treated like a little boy, rather than just a diagnosis, a statistic.
To this day, I appreciate the people who are kind to my boy, the ones who see him as he really his, the ones who truly accept him. I cherish the times when a child or adult says something nice about him or when they reach out to him. And I am still surprised when these acts occur, even though they happen pretty regularly.
It’s not that I think Danny is unlikable; I know he is charming and funny and delightful. Still, I also know from experience that the world is populated with people who mock differences. People who are mean to those who don’t fit the world’s definition of “normal.” And I am terrified of the day when someone like that hurts my little boy’s feelings.
I am hoping that the majority of people he comes in contact with are like that Subway worker, people who are regularly kind to everyone, no matter how different they may be. And I suppose I will need to let go a bit more; no parent can shield her child from every pain or disappointment, no matter how much she would like to.
After all, what this past year — the Year of the Diagnosis — has taught me is that Danny’s pretty tough. He regularly stands up for other kids with no worry of how he will be treated. He’s passionate about seeing justice served and is much more resilient than I give him credit for.
So the world didn’t stop for me or for Danny that sunny January afternoon last year. In fact, it was only just beginning.