We knew early on that our son was severely impacted by autism. Diagnosed at 17 months with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), my husband and I embarked on a quest to get him the therapies he needed to be a part of this world. It wasn’t easy. At that time there were no support groups, no Internet, no real awareness around autism. Even the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed him told us to “read a book on ‘learning disabilities’ ” and never once mentioned the word, “autism,” as if he was afraid that the word would be too much for us to handle.
We needed to know everything in order to move forward. Knowledge is power. So we found our way through reading books, finding the right experts and trusting our own intuition.
While most children naturally are totally enthralled with their mother’s gaze, my journey began with a quest to get our son to recognize me as “mom. ” By age 3, he still wasn’t there; he was trapped in a world where he would trace imaginary letters in the air with his index finger and call out their names and laugh. He would scream in his car seat when we traveled to Boulder and didn’t turn onto Foothills Parkway. (We think it was because he wanted to see the signs with exit numbers.) There were times that he would scream for no apparent reason, and I would feel isolated from my play group, our schools, our faith community and from my life.
Our son is now 22, and he recently graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. He works 30 hours per week as a software engineer. He lives in an apartment with roommates who help him with morning routines and cooking. He has friends, travels independently by bus, and manages his own finances. He visits and calls. He is part of this world. We are part of his world too.
It wasn’t an easy journey. There were many pieces to get him here. And there is more for him to learn as he works to get his driver’s license, increases his cooking repertoire and discovers more diverse ways to spend his time.
The Inclusion Connection is for those of you on this journey. There are many children and adults with disabilities who still live in a separate world, the world for people with disabilities. They don’t meaningfully socialize with “typical” peers. They don’t attend college. They don’t work. They aren’t a part of a faith community. They often either live with their parents or live somewhere where they are mostly isolated. Often the parents feel isolated too.
The Inclusion Connection is also for those who are not on this journey, those parents, employers, school officials and others, who recognize that the world will never be whole until all children and adults are included in all parts of our society.