Jacob loves summer. He loves all that it means, but most of all, he loves the ocean–swimming, boogie boarding, digging and building in the sand. I absolutely love watching him at the beach–relaxed, at peace with himself, no pressure. The sheer joy on his face is priceless. It is the one place in this world where he is the most happy.
But, it’s that time again.
If you have a school-aged special needs child, maybe you know what time I mean. The dreaded “back-to-school”.
As we hurtle uncontrollably toward that day…August 21st…I can feel the anxiety creeping in. I try to hide it and push it away, but it keeps slowly rising in my gut. Like vomit burning the back of my throat. Jacob feels it too. In trying to prepare him for “that time”, we’ve started talking about it. I’ve emailed school personnel. We’ve purchased his school supplies already. (Probably will get Emma’s today…tax fee weekend and all.)
He says, “It’s going to be the worst year ever.” I say, “You’ll be top dog! Eighth grader. Ruling middle school!” He says, “It’s going to be awful.” I say, “Give it a chance, buddy. You never know.”
Yes, it’s the unknown. But, for him, it’s also the known.
It’s knowing that he’s going into this year with no friends. Knowing the self-imposed pressure of doing things perfectly is back with a vengeance. Oh, it’s always there, but worse during the school year. It’s knowing that high school is one year away. It’s knowing that unexpected and painful assault on his auditory system is lurking around every corner. It’s knowing that, as a 13 yr old boy, his body is changing and feeling out of control, which only seems to magnify some of his Asperger’s behaviors/sensitivities. It’s knowing you’re different and wishing you weren’t.
It breaks my heart. For many reasons. But mostly because I can’t fix it–neither his self-perceptions nor some of the realities. Oh, we try to prepare him. We try to encourage him and get him all pumped up. Ever the optimist, I say, “This is your year, buddy! Go show them all how amazing you are.”
I know how awesome he is. I see him as the fearfully and wonderfully made child of God who has amazing gifts and talents to offer and who has a purpose in this world. His teachers and most adults who know him, know how awesome he is. But his peers, well, that’s a different story.
Learning to accept who you are–warts and all–in spite of whether you are accepted by others. Seeing yourself as you were created and intended to be. It all comes down to that, doesn’t it? It’s not something I can make happen for him. That’s why they call it self-acceptance, I suppose. And I realize that getting to that place is a journey for all of us. Some get there faster and more easily than others.
I’ve heard so many people share about how their children have accepted their differences; they are proud of their autism. Proud that it makes them unique, special, not one of the cookie-cutter “normal” kids. They’ve come to view it as an asset in their lives. Truth be told, I always feel a pang of jealousy when I hear that. Oh, how I hope and pray for that day. When he realizes this gift he’s been given. When he sees that it’s good NOT to be like some of the jerky, jocky, I’ve-got-to-look-tough teenage boys out there who are trying so desperately to find themselves by making others feel badly about themselves. Asperger’s makes some things harder, sure, but perhaps life would be harder in some other way if he weren’t on the autism spectrum. Everybody’s got something, I always say.
I try not to think too much about the future. Of course, it gets to me sometimes. I can’t worry about things that haven’t happened yet. I can try to guide him down the path of learning to appreciate who he is and steer him toward a future of doing something he loves. I can get him counseling, therapies and services. I can encourage him, love him, pray for him and trust God to both take care of him and cover the mistakes I’ve made.
And I watch him grow. Which gives me more joy than you can ever know.
That will have to be enough.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.” ~Psalm 139:13-16 NIV