Do you remember the first time you laid eyes on your child? Do you remember the feelings of joy, the wonder, the awe?
Do you remember the various milestones: His first steps? Her first words? Do you recall your dreams about his future: his graduation from college? Playing for the Red Sox?
Now imagine he’s two or three years old and things don’t quite seem right. You can’t—or won’t—put your finger on it, but something seems off, especially when you compare him to other kids.
You tell yourself that every child develops at his own pace, which is true. You remind yourself that these kinds of comparisons are pernicious, which they are. You comfort yourself with family stories about an uncle or cousin who were “late bloomers,” which they were.
But you still can’t shake the sense that something is wrong. You ask his pediatrician, who suggests you make an appointment with a specialist. You are so nervous that you can hardly punch in the phone number. But you do it.
The night before the appointment is quite possibly the longest night of your life. You arrive at the doctor’s office and you look around at the other parents and, especially, at the other kids. And your heart sinks even further.
Your names are called. The doctor is very nice—patient, kind and understanding. He recommends some testing, which only ratchets up the anxiety.
The tests are administered. Then the doctor says the word that has been your inescapable companion for months: autism.
At that point, it feels like your insides have been scraped out with a tongue depressor. If you drink, you want to reach for the bottle; if you don’t, you think wrongly that this is the time to start.
After the initial shock wears off, you begin to realize that your life has, seemingly in the blink of an eye, changed forever. Your dreams, expectations, and aspirations have been run through the shredder. Out with the Ivy League, in with special ed; bye-bye Red Sox, hello Challenger Baseball.
All of this is enough to break even the strongest people. Being the parent of an autistic child, or any child with special needs, requires a level of commitment and dedication that is impossible to understand unless you’ve been there.
It’s even harder when one parent decides the challenge is too great and bails out on the marriage. Being a single mom is hard enough; being the single mom of an autistic child is enough to make you question God’s goodness and very existence.
But sometimes, it does the opposite—it makes you want to grab on to God and not let go. And that’s what happened to my daughter, Emily.
She has a new book, called Dancing With Max, in which she tells us what she learned from her autistic son—and what I learned from my grandson, Max. Emily’s greatest trial has become her greatest blessing.
And I can say as a proud father, that I agree with the book reviews: My daughter has written a beautiful, moving story of what true love means.
And I’ve been honored to write the prologue and the epilogue—some of the most intimate personal writing I’ve done since Born Again. For the next few days I’m going to tell you about Max and Emily—because their story has lessons for all of us. So stay tuned.