As any parent with a special needs child will tell you, there are moments of extreme heartbreak. The moment when the specialist renders a diagnosis, or when you realize your child will struggle with something his whole life that other kids get in ten minutes, or when a school lets your child down. Yet often these moments come when you least expect them, and they are so swift and painful they take your breath away. Sometimes you don’t fully process them until later and you find yourself crying in the middle of the grocery store, reaching for your sunglasses and hoping you don’t see anyone you know.
When I watched C wander around the playground this morning before school, aimlessly looking for a familiar face, something started to well up inside me. The time was only a brief five or ten minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. It’s not for lack of wanting to connect with someone; this child is about as social as they come. So I watched, while he walked around, anxiously looking for a friend to share his time. All the playground noise of the zillion kids running around faded from my ears as my chest swelled with a sob. There’s something so awful about watching your own child, whom you love so dearly and so completely, struggle with something so basic, so fundamental to his very existence.
The moment became far bigger than it was, simply because it represents C’s challenges in the most profound way. He no longer approaches anyone and everyone with abandon, so he’s learned a lesson or two along the way. This is good and bad for the same reason: he’s more aware. Aware of some of the rules, yet aware he still doesn’t know exactly how the rules work. It’s a core issue of C’s version of autism.
The moment continued for me, while I later went about my day, sneaking up on me at inopportune times. Tears continued to drop here and there as I remembered his forlorn look as he milled about. Surely parents of “typical” children experience this at times, but I comforted myself by remembering that with the heartbreak comes moments (and there are more of these, truthfully) of extraordinary joy. Perhaps parents of special needs children experience the heartbreak and joy in more extreme ways, simply because there is nothing we can take for granted.