To say that Graham is making progress in ABA would be a mild understatement. I would like to talk about our proverbial elephant. He has made leaps and bounds, and I know it is due to the work he is doing in his many therapies. With that progress, a thought arises from the depths of my mind.
Why is his progress surprising me?
I have always been a see is believing kind of person, and I don’t tend to do blind faith well. When the doctors told me my son was non-verbal autistic my world shook. I didn’t believe it up until that point. I didn’t want to believe it. My wife kept trying to tell me. Prepare me. I didn’t listen. I wouldn’t listen because I wasn’t ready.
I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids. I had let go of that dream. The dream of a family, and the joy of fatherhood evaporated with a few words from a doctor. Then I met Courtney. She, like me, was supposed to be barren. Then as some cosmic joke, BOOM, kid. Suddenly I was going to have my family. Suddenly I was going to be dad. I mean I already had the body for it, so why not? Let me be dad.
Then the pregnancy was so rough that no mortal should have to endure. I’ve heard of others that were worse, and I know there are worse things that could have happened. As scary as what we went through was, I shudder to think of the amount of strength that it would have to take to walk those roads. I doubt I could. Graham came early, and I see the most beautify sight I could never have imagined: my flesh and blood looking back at me. He was so tiny. Not much larger than my hand. Wires and tubes surrounded him. It was like maneuvering a doll behind a computer. The cables kept getting in the way, and you couldn’t get more than ten feet from the wall. I remember, one night in the NICU, I rolled his cable cage to the sink for bath time. However, due to slept exhaustion, I miscalculated the distance. So when I picked the little guy up, the feeding tube snapped out of his nose. Thankfully he was okay, but the look on his face was a pure “What the hell?” look. I realized something after I was done consoling and apologizing to him. My son was free. Even if just for a moment, he was free. I began pacing the room for no other reason than I could. It was the first time I felt like we were free of prison the NICU was to me.
He grew well. Physically he was maturing normal. He armflapped when he was excited, but I didn’t see that as a red flag, but merely a quirk. Courtney knew. Looking back, I was a fool. He didn’t play with toys really. He didn’t want to watch kid’s shows or movies really. When we first brought him home, he wouldn’t sleep unless NCIS was playing. The first time we heard him spontaneously giggle was when we were watching Harry Potter. He liked Buckbeak. I should have saw it. I didn’t care though; I was living my dream.
The more Courtney spoke of autism, the more I started resenting it. I mean, this was my dream, and that would shatter it. Surely, after everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t have to watch my dream turn to ash. Well, I did. Sitting in a room listening to six white coats utter the most horrifying and depressing words I could hear. He is non-verbal autistic. What does that mean? My dream was destroyed. I wasn’t going to get a normal life. I wasn’t going to get the “dad” experience. I was going to be a glorified caretaker to a child that probably wouldn’t know who or what I was. Fantastic.
My feeling of caretaker was greatly increased as he shunned me for momma. I was just the guy providing everything. I was just the guy tearing himself into knots for their happiness, and was still an outsider looking in.
Courtney fought to get him into therapy. Started with the big three: speech, OT, and physical. After time she found outabout ABA, and signed him up for that to. Honestly we were just throwing a pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what stuck. We wanted and needed help. Still do in fact. But, by all accounts this is what we should be doing.
During all of that, I had let go. Once again I threw the hope of a dream away from me to protect me from my own hope. But through all of the fighting, all of heartache, all of the pain, something happened the other day.
Graham said and called me “Dad”.
He called me dad. It was a surreal moment of utter bliss for me. I hadn’t realized that I had given up that far. I know I have little hope or expectation anymore about much, but he surprised me. For an instant, I was back in that NICU room. I was holding him, brushing the tangled wires away, and soaking in the fact that I was Dad. I now know that he understands that, and that gives me strength.