Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Finding Your Talent

by Sariah S. Wilson

For those that may be newer to the blog, let me do a little background on my oldest son.

Shortly before his third birthday he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. I was eight months pregnant when that happened and felt totally and completely overwhelmed. I didn't know what to do or where to even start to help him.

He was mostly non-verbal. He was particularly close to my brother Stephen (who was only nine when my son was born). I remember going over to my mom's house to have them baby-sit while I slept on their couch just to get some rest. An older boy (friend of a different brother) was listening to my son's babbling and said, "Dude, what's wrong with that kid? Shouldn't he be talking?"

Stephen turned to him and said, "He says the four most important things. Cookie, juice, Barney and Stephen!"

It's a funny/sad story, mostly sad because at three years old he had four words.

The experts told us that he would probably never talk. They said he would withdraw even further from us, that he would be unable to learn or have friends or do anything that normal kids do.

It's like a mini-death. The life that you envisioned for your child - being married, having children, having a job, serving a mission, all of it gone in an instant with a few words from a doctor. I grieved for the child and the man I thought he would be. It was one of the hardest, darkest times in my life.

Much as I whine and complain, I am not one to lay down and die. I took matters into my own hands, found all the organizations designed to help by myself, got therapy visits, investigated all the latest techniques and behavior modification programs - I devoted my life to it. You can't begin to imagine the amount of time I spent on my knees praying for him. I was determined to get him better, even though everyone said it was impossible.

So surely and so slowly, it did happen.

I don't know why it happened for us when it doesn't happen for so many others.

Of course, now the doctors say he never had autism in the first place, because he certainly doesn't have it now. I remember sitting there as he took tests where he was skewing toward normal and the complete and total thrill that it gave me.

It taught me about compensatory blessings. I did not have a child to raise that was as easy as many other people's children. But I got such joy out of each and every accomplishment. How many other people cheered the first time their child alternated feet while walking downstairs (important motor skill)? Or whooped out loud when their child pointed at something for the first time (to show joint attention)? Or cried for joy the first time their child said, "luboo" (love you)? I missed a lot. But I got a lot too.

Life continues to be a daily challenge and struggle with him. He has been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD and a learning disability. He has pretty severe behavioral problems and some issues in the classroom. But surprisingly he is an avid reader, devouring books as quickly as he can. (He is a big fan of LDS authors like Matthew Buckley, Rob Ficiur and Sian Bessey (and mom gets some respect when I say, "Hey, I know them") and he is constantly begging me for more books that he might like.)

I was sort of shocked at how much he loves to read. I tried Harry Potter with him for a long time and he hated it. Until one day he decided he wanted to read it. And within a week he had read the entire series, which he has reread in the last few months no less than seven times. (Whenever I'm trying to remember a Harry Potter fact, I just ask him.)

I would never have known the love he would have for reading if I had just given up and assumed he would never like it. Or if I hadn't exposed him to many different kinds of books until he found a style that he liked.

He asked us last year to play tackle football. At that point he had a propensity for hurting other children (including one child where he actually drew blood by hitting him with a Matchbox car) and we didn't know that he could be trusted to behave and follow directions. We told him that when he could prove it to us, we would let him play.

So this year he seemed like he was ready. I didn't really know why he wanted to play football. We are not a sports family. My husband doesn't like any kind of sports at all - we never have them on in the house. We're the kind of people that tape the Super Bowl and fast forward the game in order to watch the commercials.

He has been practicing since July. So far, so good. He hasn't had any behavioral issues at all, and fortunately for us, one of the assistant coaches has a kid on the spectrum so he's excellent at working with my son. He is treated just like every other player.

Most of these boys have been playing football for years, and they have fathers who played football for years and watch it/love it now. My son had neither one of these things. I worried about how he would do.

Today was his first game. He played defensive end, and he took to that game like a duck takes to water.

The coach told us that many first-year kids are really scared of being hit and play very tentatively until they get over their fear.

Not my son.

He gets this intense focus on the ball, and he is going to get it and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. There was a fumble, he was the one who landed on top of it. The quarterback went into his own end zone, my son was the one who tackled him, got the touchback and earned two points.

Then the last two plays of the game - the other side was desperate. They were losing eight to nothing, and this was their one chance to make it down the field.

Unfortunately for them, my son didn't let that happen. The last two plays of the game, he sacked the quarterback both times and that ball didn't move.

He's good. I can't believe how good he is, especially against these seasoned players. I think even the coaches were a little shocked at how good he was - they singled him out for praise at the huddle after the game, and even called here at the house to talk to him and tell him again how good he did.

He has this talent that I couldn't have imagined or predicted. I have tried to expose him to the talents in my world that I understand - like reading and writing - but I'm so amazed that he found this one all on his own.

I'm amazed that a boy who couldn't make friends is part of a team.

That a boy who couldn't learn knows all his plays and formations.

That a boy who couldn't speak got to keep saying "thank you" all afternoon.

That a boy who never quite fit in finally got to belong.

Do you have a hidden talent that would surprise other people if they knew? Or have your children surprised you in some way with their talents?


At 8/30/2009 12:04 AM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I can't think straight enough to answer your question at the end--I'm just near tears at this post and how far your son has come. I'm so happy for you--but I know he didn't get there without a mother working her tail off to get him where he is. You've both been blessed. And wow.

At 8/30/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger Pendragon said...

thank you for sharing this. it stirred something and is gonna make me sit back and do a lot of reflection.

At 8/30/2009 2:13 PM, Blogger Tamara Hart Heiner said...

wow. what an amazing, amazing story.

At 8/30/2009 8:02 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Good for you and good for your son. The young couple who live across the street from us have two autistic sons, only the older one is now attending a regular school and is at grade level. The kids in his Primary class like him. He too has a mother who didn't take a diagnosis as the final word. The younger one has made amazing strides too and now speaks a few words and behaves well at Church.

At 8/31/2009 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your story is a very heartwarming and touching story. For parents looking for child behavior help I would recommend a behavior modification program. It can work wonders on defiant and out of control behavior. Thanks again for posting your story. It should give many other parents hope.

At 8/31/2009 8:03 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

That is awesome. Congrats to your son :)

At 9/01/2009 3:43 PM, Blogger Heather Justesen said...

What a great story. ODD and ADHD are such an overwhelming combination sometimes. You must be an awesome mother, and want to tear you hair out a lot. =) I remember dealing with that combination. I loved the kid, but it sure was rough sometimes.

I'm so happy your son has found something he's good at and loves, it makes such a difference.

At 9/02/2009 4:40 PM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

I'm sitting here blinking away the tears reading this. So thrilled for your son's success, Sariah - and yours. That story deserves to be published around the world. What an amazing achievement. It would make a heart-stirring, thought-provoking movie. Thanks for sharing.


Post a Comment

<< Home