A post from He-Who’s daughter Trisha just popped up on Facebook.
“ …my sweet Eric gave a speech today IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE SCHOOL about Remembrance Day! Big step for a young man who went through YEARS of therapy just to be able to talk! I’m in awe!!!”
I couldn’t be more proud at this moment if this child was my own flesh and blood.
I didn’t have children of my own, so that pretty much was the writing on the wall for grandchildren. Throughout the years, my sisters and friends have shared their children, and now grandchildren, with me. I am simply Auntie M to pretty much everybody. When He-Who and I got together, his daughters were grown. The oldest was already married and the youngest was about to be. Trisha and Stephen’s wedding was the first family event we were a part of as a couple. The next was the birth of their oldest child, Eric.
Trisha made a point of letting me be a part of Eric’s birth. It was an amazing gift and the closest I would ever get to experiencing child birth. That is until his sister Cyndi was born a few years later and I was given the honour of “cutting the cord”. For years I tormented Cyndi about her belly button, saying, “I made that!” Eric is now 13 and Cyndi is 10. These two children have taught me more about the important moments in life than you can imagine.
Eric was a beautiful baby, but not an easy baby. We all waited patiently for those “marker” moments that a baby goes through ― standing, first steps, first words, etc. They weren’t forthcoming. It wasn’t long before we received the news that Eric was autistic. This was a new word in our vocabulary and we scrambled to find out as much as we could. There were a lot more questions than answers and the mysteries of autism continue still. When Cyndi was born, we were led to believe that it was highly unlikely for a second child to also be autistic. They were wrong. Both children are autistic although they present differently. Trisha and Stephen were on the front lines always learning and looking for the best solutions to help their children lead the best lives possible. He-Who and I did what we could, when we could.
My first “moment” I remember, came through my Father. It was Christmas. Dad had a new lady friend and he was bringing her for Christmas dinner. Dad was a stubborn, impatient man at the best of times, but he very much wanted to impress this woman and I was expected to make him look good. I was very nervous. Trisha, Stephen and Eric would be with us. Communication was non-existent with Eric at this time. He was unable to make us understand what he wanted, needed or what was causing discomfort. He screamed. He screamed constantly. The guessing game would begin. Was he hungry? Was he wet? Had he hurt himself? The longer it took to figure out what he was trying to tell us the more frustrated he became and the louder and longer his screams. I sat my father down and tried to explain to him that this was not Eric’s fault and it was out of our control. Of course he thought it was all hogwash and there would be none of that. I was sure he wasn’t really listening and would never understand. Christmas day, about an hour into the latest screaming binge, I heard my Dad’s guest say something to him about it. Before I had a chance to wallop her with a frying pan I heard my Dad say, “You have to understand. The little guy is just frustrated. He is trying to communicate with us and he can’t make us understand.” He went on, patiently explaining to her everything I had tried to explain to him earlier, adding a few facts that I knew he’d found out on his own. Eric showed me something in my father I had never seen.
The day I discovered the power music had over Eric was like magic for me. I was watching Eric and working from home. He had been screaming for a very long time and I had exhausted all the queries I could think of to make him stop. I was tied up with promoting the Toronto production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond. I popped in the video of the production so I could get familiar with it. Within seconds Eric was quiet. He sat through that video without one peep out of him. As soon as it ended he started screaming. I inserted another musical video and he continued to scream. Three tapes later I gave in and put Joseph back in the machine. Eric stopped instantly. By the time his parents returned Eric had watched that video six times. That videotape was my secret weapon. I learned to hate it but was always grateful for its effect on Eric.
The most profound moment came from Cyndi. For Eric, walking, talking and his eating habits were probably his biggest hurdles. It was different with Cyndi. She wouldn’t make eye contact and she wouldn’t let you touch her. When it comes to his grandchildren, He-Who is a very affectionate man. It didn’t matter how much time we spent with Cyndi, she would turn away if you looked at her and she would not hug you or show any sign of affection. This broke He-Who’s heart. Eric was a very affectionate child and hugged his grandfather enough for both children. Still, He-Who longed for a hug from his granddaughter. One day, while working in the edit suite, I answered the phone. It was He-Who. He was crying, sobbing actually. He could just get out the word “Cyndi” and then he would get all choked up again. I thought something terrible had happened. It took awhile, but he finally managed to tell me that Cyndi had given him a hug. He had waited five years for that hug! I knew what it meant to him and I sat crying with him on the phone. Thank God for dark edit suites.
There has been lots of help along the way. Both children were able to be mainstreamed and are doing well in school. There have been speech therapists, programs and teaching aides. We are fortunate here in Ontario to have a lot of support provided for autistic children. Their parents have worked very hard to make sure they take full advantage of anything that will help their children. Cyndi and Eric know they are autistic and they constantly try to improve things that they know may set them apart. If you comment on Cyndi’s monotone, she will tell you, “That is part of my autism and I’m working on it.” Trisha and Stephen believe that “we have to put faces to the issues. Make them real so people can accept, sympathize, and bond with people who have disabilities.” They have taught their children that they shouldn’t be embarrassed or hide because they are autistic, that they have a voice and that they can help others like themselves.
Cyndi loves to dance and she writes poetry. One of her poems has been published.
Eric wrote a speech about Remembrance Day. Today he gave his speech in front of the entire school. There are many “moments” ahead for these two brilliant children.
Note: This is one of my “lost” posts that originally appeared on another blog. It was written in November of 2012. The kids are a couple of years older but they still continue to amaze me every day.