Today is Alex’s 21st birthday. Although most young men his age would likely be excited about going out with friends to celebrate this milestone, Alex has simply requested that Ed and I take him to Wal-Mart this afternoon, and he is looking forward to shopping with us. Even though autism has robbed him of a typical life as a young adult, he thankfully is unaware of the things he’s missing. For Alex, life is good, so long as he has places to go, good food to eat, a comfortable bed for sleeping, and Ed and I helping him with the things he still can’t do for himself. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex is blessed because he finds joy in the simple things.
Last year, I was asked to write an essay about raising a child with autism that became part of a published collection entitled, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids. For my submission, I decided to write about the night I went into labor with Alex and how that foreshadowed what life with autism might entail. In honor of Alex’s 21st birthday, I thought I’d share an excerpt from that essay, “Expecting the Unexpected.”
With a swift kick to my ribs, I was wide awake at 3:00 A.M. Eight months pregnant with Alex, I knew that since I was awake, I might as well go to the bathroom. Once I got there, an unmistakable gush mean that my water had broken, and labor had begun, three and a half weeks earlier than expected.
Thinking that I had more time to prepare, I had not packed a suitcase yet, nor had we put together his crib. After awakening my husband and phoning my parents, we headed off to the hospital, uncertain of what was ahead of us since this was our first child, who would also turn out to be our only child.
Because I had developed an autoimmune bleeding disorder, my pregnancy was deemed high-risk, which meant a flurry of activity and an insistence by my obstetrician that I have a Caesarian section under general anesthesia. Although we were disappointed that we wouldn’t see Alex being born, [Ed was not allowed in the delivery room; I think the doctor was worried there could be complications.] we were thankful that the birth was safe for both of us, and we thought we had smooth sailing once the pregnancy was over.
However, we had no way of knowing that autism was in our future. The first year, Alex met all of his developmental milestones within the normal range, but after that, we noticed signs that pointed to language and social delays common in autism.
Through the years we have learned that Alex must always do things on his terms when he’s good and ready. For us, life with autism has meant learning to wait patiently and to celebrate successes when they arrive—essentially a matter of always expecting the unexpected.
And so, today we celebrate how far Alex has come in twenty-one years: all the successes he’s enjoyed and all those we anticipate he will accomplish in the future. From the baby who announced his imminent arrival in the middle of the night and nearly a month early to the young man who still surprises us with his unique perspectives and amazing memory, Alex teaches Ed and me to be patient, have faith, and trust God. Happy Birthday, my beloved son Alex!
“Yes, You have been with me from birth; from my mother's womb You have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising You!” Psalm 71:6