My dear Theodore,
Happy birthday! I know you would read this one day. I don’t think I doubt it. Or do I? This year has been quite the year. Two years ago, I had no idea. Last year, I was just getting used to it. But this year…we’ve walked through and come this far.
From the moment you were born, we knew you were on the quieter side and called you an introvert. You could sleep! Then, it was time to introduce you to solids and it was a battle. I can’t even believe the story about picky eater you is no more true. And then you walked later than the “expected” age even though it still fell within the average : at 14 months. With all of this going on, there was barely anything else to pay attention to.
Somehow though, at 15 months, I stopped and asked : “Do you respond to your name?” Daddy agreed you don’t but well, we didn’t want to worry. Parents aren’t supposed to make comparisons after all. You were almost 18 months when I was watching a video from Dromobaby and the mother mentioned that her 1-year old had started to imitate what she said. It sounded so familiar…but for Paschal, not you. I went back to read what I wrote when Paschal turned 1 and indeed, I had mentioned that he’d started to imitate our words.
This was the moment that stopped me in my tracks. You had no words at 18 months. You knew me. You knew how to let me know you wanted breast milk, your favourite at that time. But you didn’t call me. You had no name for me, nor for Daddy. In that moment, I knew I needed answers to the questions I had ignored in my heart. It wasn’t about comparison; it was about realising that something was truly different. We first saw the paediatrician. We were then referred to have a hearing assessment. Hearing? Of course you could hear. You even had a favourite song that we played in the car, “All creatures of our Lord and King” and you cried when the song was ending. You loved to watch cartoons and laughed at specific parts that you liked. So I had no doubt that you could hear. We went ahead to get the assessment done at Korle-Bu (while trying to avoid Covid patients as this is June 2020 🙈) and it was confirmed that your hearing was perfect. Our next referral was to a speech therapist who then referred us to a neuro paediatrician.
Autism. That was it. No, I wasn’t surprised. I had googled all that we had observed already and that had been a possibility. But hearing it that day changed that possibility to a confirmation. In that moment, our world changed. Daddy and I. You were still the same, you know. But we couldn’t see you as the same. Parents dream. It could be conscious or subconscious. But somehow, while we are pregnant, we already see you married and getting pregnant too. When you take your first step, we see you walking into your office. When you hold a book, we see you stepping onto a stage to pick a best student’s award. In that moment, all of these dreams died. And when dreams die, your world cannot be the same. I was so broken I couldn’t even cry.
As a Christian family, we turned to prayer. Somehow, in those moments of prayer, I felt in my spirit that we were to pray for strength for the journey rather than a change in diagnosis. What was this? I shared it with Daddy and we prayed for strength.
Coincidentally, I was going through a phase of life where I felt lost on my career path. I knew what I didn’t want but what I really wanted seemed impossible to get. So I was at the point where I couldn’t see clearly what I wanted to do next. Here I was, straight A student, first class graduate, and I was jobless and “aimless”. Who would ever have thought? But you know what that made me realise? I realised that a dream had died. My parents had a dream. My friends had a dream. Society had a dream. Everyone had a picture of what I would look like based on my successes of the past. But in that moment, the dream was lost. Nonetheless, I had no doubt that I could find a new dream for myself. So why did I think I couldn’t find a new dream for you? If you would never talk, maybe you couldn’t take a job that needed only your voice. But you could become a professional swimmer. An artist. You could do so much with your hands and legs. You didn’t need words to achieve all of this.
That was the moment of acceptance for me. That was the moment I decided to allow you to find what you would shine at. I would expose you to as much as I could and when we both find what works for you, you would hang on to it. It filled me with so much strength and urgency to do something from that day forward.
You started speech therapy. We noticed you were getting more attentive. Occasionally, you would start to use a word or two and then lose it. But at least we now knew your mouth could form words. Interestingly, it was around this time that you started to eat so well. Up till now, we cannot say whether or not speech therapy brought that difference.
And then I got my dream job. Yes, the perfection I was looking for. A job that combined my skills, my passions and my values and gave me a schedule that worked for me as your mum.
So it is true. When an old dream dies, it gives room for a new dream to come true. This year, we have worked on our goals. There have been highs and lows. There have been days when I wish it was easier. And then days when I realise this is not so bad after all. Days when you do something amazing and I have so much hope and then I tell myself, not to get so hopeful.
All in all, I am grateful and I want to celebrate you today.
Thank you for teaching me that the death of one dream is the birth of a new dream.
Thank you for teaching me that the motherhood journey continues even when it takes a different turn.
Thank you for teaching me that our brains are not a single block. Trust me, I know this in theory. But when I watch you learn your colours, alphabet, figure out how to avoid us when you are doing something wrong and you are caught, show affection, know the route we take to certain places, it hits me that of course, autism doesn’t mean the entire brain stopped working. It only means some parts aren’t working as expected but other parts are very much alive.
Thank you for opening me up to the world of the adult autistic community. Reading how they see the world amazes me every single time.
Thank you for all the hugs. You give the tightest ever.
Theodore : God’s gift. Ayemye : goodness. You are living your name. And I have no doubt that you always would. Happy birthday! I love you more than I believed I would be able to a year ago.