Slowly, I trudge up the handicapped ramp to Casey’s Early Intervention Preschool. At only 21 months old, he’s been diagnosed with autism and has been going to this school for a couple of months. Each day is the same. Carter, Casey’s older brother who is only 34 months old, runs ahead, I drag a kicking and screaming Casey to a place he’d rather not go. My back aches from the strain of the fight, Casey’s weight and the weight of my own seven-month pregnant body. By the top of the ramp, I’m sweating and exhausted.
We wait for the class to start with the other parents in the hall. I watch as a little girl with Down syndrome, Amanda, is carried down the hall by her mother. She smiles and cocks her head to the side to watch as Casey lays on the floor wailing. The door opens and a team of teachers and therapists usher the children in. I notice as they see Casey a look of worry and strain crosses their faces. I pretend not to notice as I carry a flailing ball of hurt and anger into the room. I do what they tell me to: I put him down, tell him I love him and that I’ll be back soon. He runs from me and hides in the corner of the room. As I try to rush out of the classroom, pulling Carter away from the mountain of toys he’s dying to play with, I notice the exchange between the therapists and Amanda. Her mother gently puts her down, and she walks happily into the classroom. They greet her with smiles and hugs and high fives. Her mom says goodbye without a fight and leaves before I can untangle Carter from the miniature basketball hoop.
We make it out of the door and I collapse onto the bench in the hall. I wait, head in my hands, and listen as Casey continues to scream inside the preschool. I think about the differences between him and Amanda. I catch myself thinking, “Amanda’s mom is so lucky.”
I carry Abby to her Early Intervention group language class. As I put her down, I make sure her feet haven’t slipped out of her orthotic inserts in her shoes. Her legs wobble a little bit and I help her get her balance. She smiles as she walks in and is greeted by the therapists and teachers who adore her. Ahead of us, a heavily pregnant mom wrestles her autistic son as he screams in protest. We say goodbye to our children and leave to the parents waiting room. In the waiting room, I stand at the observation window and watch as the therapists painstakingly help Abby walk through the obstacle course they’ve set up, the children waiting behind her grow impatient and they eventually let them pass so she can take her time climbing and crawling through the maze. The boy’s mom joins me at the mirror, a look on her face that I know I carried for years. Before we get a chance to talk, her phone rings and she wanders off.
We get called into the classroom for the joint part of the class. I watch as the other children run laps around Abby. When it’s time for singing time, the kids go around and sing their names. Abby rests her head on her shoulder as she watches. She can’t say her name. In the place of words is a wheeze and I’m soon out in the hall giving her puffs of albuterol as I watch her little ribs retract through her shirt in an effort to compensate for the inflammation. Her lungs respond and we return just as they begin snack time. The kids are drinking from open cups, but I grab Abby’s sippy cup of pre-mixed juice and a thickening agent that makes the consistency of the fluid resemble gravy.
I walk Abby over to the chair, and position her body so that she can sit back into the chair. She sits and slumps so far that she’s about falling off. I pick her up and adjust her at the table. Abby smiles as she eats, but says nothing. She even refuses to use what signs she knows, like “more” or “banana.” Eventually, we pull what language we can get out of Abby by doing hand over hand signs, and rewarding her when I use her hands to do the appropriate signs with her. The autistic child struggles through the transition, but eventually jumps into his seat and scoots himself to the table when he sees his favorite snack on the table. He flaps his hands as he asks for “mo crackuhs.” His mother behind him smiles and claps.
I find myself thinking, “She’s so lucky.”