Five years ago I became a teacher; five years ago I also became the mother to a son in heaven. August 12th, 2016 I came home from my first new teacher workday. It was exhilarating and exciting, and for the first time in a long time, I knew I was exactly where I should be. I had no idea that a few short hours later I’d find myself in the hospital in preterm labor with our first child. That same day, we lost our son, Jaxon, at only 21 weeks.
I found myself wondering how on earth I was going to go back into that classroom and teach a room full of 28 kids when I had just lost my own. Nevertheless, I did it. Only four short days later. And now looking back, I know that that choice completely changed my life. I knew that was exactly where I was meant to be.
Fast forward to April 2, 2017, I found myself in the same space. In preterm labor, this time with twin boys. That day, we lost our boys Everett and Bryant. Again, nearly immediately after, I threw myself back into my work. Now here we were, struggling with what to do next. We wanted to be parents more than anything and we knew we had so much love to give. So in January 2018, after 7 long months of bed rest, we welcomed our angel on earth, Maddox. And we were smitten.
Being a teacher is often a double-edged sword. You’re educated on child development just enough to be hypercritical of not only your work but also the work within your own home, with your own kids. Maddox was a spitfire from the day he was born. So independent, but so kind-hearted and eager to explore the world. I can also tell you down to the minute, when I realized that something wasn’t right.
I was sitting in the viewing area at his very first swim lesson. I had convinced my husband to get in the pool with him (more like I lost at rock, paper, scissors!), so I struck up a conversation with the mom sitting next to me. Her daughter was in Maddox’s class and we had discovered that they were only a few days apart. Maddox nearly doubled her in size, but she had something Maddox didn’t; Eye contact, pointing, talking to her mom, waving, blowing kisses. She had effortless interaction, and meaningful engagement. There we sat behind the glass, her receiving waves and kisses, and me desperately trying to have Maddox even look at me.
That’s when I knew.
We are blessed with the most incredible pediatrician, turned family friend, and within minutes of this realization, I had sent her a text message.
“I think Maddox has autism.”
Although no one around me was on board at the time, they supported me, and they listened and I could never put into words how grateful I am for that.
The following month, Maddox turned 18 months old. We had speech evaluations, occupational therapy evaluations, and physical therapy evaluations. It was determined that my 18-month-old was currently communicating at the level of a 3-to-6-month-old. His repetition had also worried them to the point of needing weekly occupational therapy sessions, as well as speech.
The next few months were a blur, I never stopped. I googled, I tried finding Facebook groups, anything I could do to find even a glimmer of hope. And that’s where this journey of autism becomes lonely. Before this, I had no idea how broad this spectrum truly is. No two journeys are the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all description.
This past winter, we had Maddox’s first preschool evaluation in order to have his IEP written. Even though I had gone through the diagnosis and all the therapies, and all of the sleepless nights I spent worrying, this was the hardest for me.
For the first time, I was on the other side of the table.
I suddenly found myself trying to flip the switch from teacher, to mom. I wasn’t advocating for accommodations for my students anymore, I was doing it for my own child. And although I had always had the greatest empathy for the parents of my IEP students, this was different. Now, we had something even greater in common. In that moment, I came to understand them better than ever. I understood why they were so passionate, sometimes to a fault, about making their child’s educational experience the best it could possibly be.
I can’t tell you how scary it is to send your 3-year old into a building with adults that you don’t know, and don’t know you. But I can tell you that it’s even scarier when your child can’t talk to you about their day, and they can’t communicate with you in the same way that typically occurs at their age.
Maddox’s diagnosis may have turned our world upside down, but now we fight every single day to turn the world right-side-up for him.
And although I had grown used to being the teacher at that table, I was now fighting to become comfortable and aware of my new place, on the other side of the table.