Alexander is my grandson. He'll be 11 next month...ELEVEN! He was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months. We were stunned. Right before his diagnosis, I remember just knowing that something wasn't right. I was standing in the kitchen stirring a big pot of soup. His grandpa came in and I just broke down saying, "We're losing him, we're losing him". And anecdotally "they" say that the family does "lose" the child with autism and that the family must learn to love that child that replaces him or her...the idea being that the original hopes and dreams placed in the child that was born are no longer appropos and must be readjusted to the reality of the situation.
So, being the Bowman Family we just made our jokes and struggled through it. We worked out a routine. Grandpa would hold Al (as he was called then) in his arms and either hold him up at the big picture window (as he loved to see the outside) or weather permitting walk him outside around and around the house and I would rock him in my chair while he drank juice from his sippee cup. Never a word was spoken...when he wanted more juice, he just raised his arm up, holding the cup high, and someone, anyone, would break their neck to replace the juice and bring it back to him.
My two teenage sons would play with him on the trampoline, which he adored. They would hold him on their laps and play with him on the piano. They would take him to the Dairy Queen for treats. They would have stood on their heads for hours if it would have made him happy. And they did all of this with no thought for receiving any affection in return. It was out of pure love, unfeigned, and given without any thought of reward or return.
My daughter Em, his aunt, worshipped the ground he walked on. It caused her no little amount of pain to be away from his at college but her thoughts were always always with him, as well as her prayers. And even when she was dead broke, she found money to spend of little gifts for Al.
And his mother, Jette. She was not prepared for this...of all the kids. But she was always the child without guile. She did not see race or appearance. Why wouldn't Al go to her? The hardest night was sitting in the front seat of her car and watching helplessly as she beat her arms against her steering wheel asking "why"? I had no answers except, "why not"?
We all learned baby-sign and that worked beautifully. It was fun to have him communicate something-ANYTHING-to us. We were hungry for his thoughts. We never expected anything. His diagnosis was bleak. We were told many things. He would never be potty-trained (fully trained by age 4), he would never speak (he yaks plenty, even tho he pronounces "c"s and "g"s as "t"s...who cares) and he certainly would never be a typical student in a typical school (he goes to Worthington in a "typical" 4th grade classroom and is beginning algebra, which he is a whiz at).
But more than anything, all this time later, when I went to pick him up tonight, I was greeted by my grandson, now called Alex (he dropped the "Al" a couple of years ago) who ran to meet me yelling, "Drandma" and hugged me so hard he cracked my back and said in my ear, "I'm so happy to see you, I'm glad you're here".
And I replied, "I'm glad you're here too buddy"...and I mean that at several levels young man...I'm so glad you're here....