"What do your children want for Christmas?" The discussion board posed the question.
For several years after my daughter's diagnosis of autism, Christmases were emotionally challenging. It's a holiday keenly focused on children. And our child could not tell us or Santa what she wanted. At some point, I adjusted and the pain of those first Christmases faded into memory.
One season I saw one of my self-appointed autism parent mentors shopping at the local wholesale warehouse. It was before those years of pain had completely subsided. She remembered aloud what it was like for her son to be unable to tell her and her husband what he wanted for Christmas. And then when he could tell them, so happy were they that words had come, that they bought him everything he wanted.
At another point into our autism journey, I also understood that first diagnosis. The one from the university speech and language center where the state intervention worker first referred my daughter. Before the multi-disciplinary team would deliver us the label of autism, the speech and language center first told us "severe speech/language impairment."
The diagnosis of autism overshadowed that first diagnosis for many years. We were knee-deep in the trenches of autism early intervention, including speech and language therapy. It would be years and years down the road before I'd hear that she did also have intellectual disabilities and that I'd also remember that first diagnosis and begin to understand what it all meant.
And, so, one decade-and-a-half along the journey, the words still have not come. A few years she has randomly named an object and we make a big deal of her simple one-word request. But language is so complicated. Something I had no reason to understand until I knew I could not take it's development in my child for granted. It's more than words. It's words strung together. In context and order. In timely fashion. And that's just pretty danged hard for an autistic mind to do, though many manage to become somewhat proficient.
The proficiency hasn't yet arrived. So, we guess at what she wants. We shower with things we know she loves.
And this I say to parents who have typically developing children. It is a gift. Unwrap it everyday. Not just at Christmas. I do not begrudge you. I celebrate with you, just as I also celebrate the many gifts my child brings to me each day of her and my life. Our children are gifts to us. They come in many forms. Unwrap them. Celebrate them. We are blessed by their presence to us.
Above photo: Grace, Christmas 2009, happy with her loot.