“Mom, can we go on that roller coaster?” Our five-year-old son asked to ride his first big-boy roller coaster –the Super Duper Looper. Having verified the height requirement (and that it was safe for a five-year-old), we all jumped in line. Never did we think that the very first thing that would happen on this ride was to be flipped entirely upside down! I thought for sure our son would get off the ride and hate it.
I was wrong.
“Let’s do it again!” he screamed excitedly as he exited (to my utter dismay).
But that ride taught me some very valuable lessons.
There are ups and down
When we first found about Autism, we did not know much about it. We are still learning about now. But something I wish we were told at the onset was that life is a roller coaster.
Most people hear that and think of Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates and very rightly say, “Obviously.” But what I am talking about goes further than the what nutty delicacy life dishes out. Life with Autism is taking two steps forward and one step back. It is a constant up and down. It is fast paced and often takes your breath away.
When our kiddo was younger, he could not talk and potty training was difficult to say the least. At four we would spend a week getting him potty trained and then send him to his other parent for the weekend. Every time he came home not potty trained.
Every time we would have him using a word to communicate (just one word) we would send him back to the other parent and he would come back mute…well, screaming like a banshee is probably more appropriate.
But he is potty trained and he can carry on lengthy conversations…as long as they are on a topic he wants to discuss.
But that process of two steps forward and one step back is exhausting. It can be affected by the smallest changes in routine to the largest. Moves between homes. Moves across the country. Different teachers. Different subjects. Developing hormones.
It is really easy to see the negative in life circumstances and feel like you will never reach the goal. Sometimes the low of the rollercoaster is really low. Sometime your stomach lives in your brain. Sometimes it is easy to forget how high you fell from or how far the child has come. It is easy to think your lives are the valleys when in reality there have been many mountains…and very close together.
You will reach your goals. They will. With solid routine, quality time, and people who will fight for them, each child with special needs can and do make and break through their goals.
Expect greatness and you will get it…eventually
I have a neck injury and a weak stomach. Going on a roller coaster I thought was great for a child of five, I was not anticipating breaking my neck and holding in my breakfast. I very much disliked that ride. I thought my son with sensory issues and an intense sensitivity to loud noises would hate that ride too.
But my son did not. He absolutely loved it!
I came to learn that the deep pressure provided on a roller coaster is really helpful to kids with neuro-sensitivity. I learned that my son has a Big-Gulp need for motion…I, on the contrary need, a teacup and call it good. I learned that my son has no fear (except one…but I am keeping that to our family for now).
Not only did he love the ride, he wanted more of it. He wanted to do every ride. The bigger and faster the ride the better it was for our son.
By making the one decision to try something new, outside everyone’s comfort level, against what seemed to be logical given his diagnosis, we got something magical!
I got to experience his first roller coaster ride with him (which is awesome because every other ride he wants to go with his dad). I got to see my son over come legitimate challenges to sound, delayed gratification waiting in line, dealing with enclosed spaces in the queue and many more. My son taught me in that moment that he can do anything he puts his mind too – no matter the challenges he faces.
This too shall pass
When I was on that ride I just kept counting down the moment until it passed. My stomach was in my head. My neck was definitely in the wrong place. I was strapped so tightly down I could not breathe. I could not wait for that ride to be over.
Sometimes, when dealing with special needs, it is easy to get stuck in that stomach-flipping moment. It is easy to think, “We have come so far and he regressed so much” or “Why are we having the same argument with the school and the district” or “Why can’t he play like everyone else?” It is easy to get stuck in the valleys and gorges and canyons.
But I encourage you to look toward the mountains on either side. The one they just came down (because that will show you what they are capable of) and the one they are about to start climbing (because that one will always be better than the last.
There is an end in sight to every dark valley.
For me it helps to remember things they have accomplished. I often remind myself that my son is grade level, even though he misses a ton of school for doctors’ appointments. I remind myself that at five my son was not talking and now I can’t get him to stop. I remind myself that he went from not knowing how to make a friend to having many at his birthday party.
Yes, even these dark gorges will pass. And they will pass sooner than we think. And we will be on to the next big and wonderful goal and accomplishment next week.
Box of Chocolates
As this year begins, I encourage you to see the mountains for what they are – accomplishments. Take the valleys for what they are – lessons to be learned. And move forward with a purpose and vision of accomplishing more than you ever thought possible. We did. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.