Listen (your title here)
A gust of arctic wind whipped around the house from the backyard, just before the piercing sound of a train whistle shattered my thoughts. It was another sub-zero February morning, with cold forbidding snowbanks piled against both doors, blocking my way out both exits. Not that I really wanted out. Where would I go with two toddlers who couldn’t safely breathe in this freezing Canadian winter air? And yet, as I watched my tow-headed toddler struggle to his feet only to fall awkwardly, once again, to the cold pine floor, I knew I needed out. I needed out further than just my front door, though, if I was going to get him any help.
Ben was 18 months old. He hadn’t spoken the ten words that were expected of a toddler his age yet. He hadn’t started to toddle. He didn’t engage with other children. He cried all of the time. He was nothing like my first-born, Christopher, who had surpassed every milestone with flying colors. Ben was behind.
And I knew it. I knew it in my gut that there was a problem. That there was something diagnosable about his condition… something that I innately recognized. Something I couldn’t ignore, or be “talked out” of by well meaning in-laws or sub-par doctors. He wasn’t just a late-bloomer. I wasn’t unfairly comparing him to my eldest child, who was probably ahead of the game. I wasn’t seeing things that weren’t there, and researching to satisfy idle paranoia. There was something that resembled traits I’d seen in my own side of the family. Something concerning.
But I wasn’t going to get help here. I’d tried. All I was getting here was patronizing comments and the occasional eye-roll. I needed to be taken seriously. I needed someone who actually knew what they were talking about. I needed a diagnosis. Yet, the most common response I got was that Ben simply wasn’t debilitated enough to warrant a diagnosis. Apparently, I needed to wait until more negative behavior manifested.
Well, I wasn’t willing to wait. All of my instincts told me that if we were going to make a difference in this child’s development, we needed to act quickly. Waiting simply was not an option. We were going to have to leave this cold little Canadian town in order to find Ben what he needed. He needed a specialist, continued medical attention, and various therapies, and he needed them pronto. In order to expedite this, I was going to have to leave the country.
Moving to the United States isn’t an easy process. Immigration can be tricky, and it can be expensive. I was an American by birth, and consequently both my boys qualified for citizenship automatically, but my husband’s papers were going to take some time. Yet, we needed to take the risk and make the journey now. We needed to move.
Packing up our house, two toddlers in tow, wasn’t an easy process. And it wasn’t a popular decision. My husband was part of a family business, and none of his family were too supportive of his departure. In fact, none of them were even nice about it. But we shouldered their negativity and their silence, and we did what was best for our own family, and for our son.
Providentially, our family was led to the sunny south, where winters were mild and medical facilities plentiful. With a little research, I quickly found an institute that was willing to examine Ben. After listening to my concerns, performing extensive tests, and monitoring his behavior, the Marcus Institute of Atlanta pronounced a diagnosis. Asperger’s Syndrome.
With their help, within weeks I was able to enroll Ben in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and sensory learning therapy. At their suggestion, I applied for a financial waiver for all services, and was granted it, so almost everything was free. Over the course of a year, my husband and I watched as our son developed in leaps and bounds. He began speaking. He stopped crying so much. He began sleeping through the night. He put on some weight.
Had we stayed in Canada, had we waited for others to notice, to recommend, to diagnose, this wouldn’t have happened. Therapies for children on the spectrum are much less effective if performed at a later age. If we had have waited, Ben’s development would have been stunted permanently. And yet, today, after graduating in the top 10% of his high school class, Ben is a sophomore in university. He secured the Presidential scholarship, and maintains the Provost’s scholarship for academia, and he is successfully handling an active social life within his dorm, albeit with a few challenges.
Call it Providence, call in mother’s intuition, call it that still-small voice.
I’m often mindful of who Ben would be, and what challenges he would have, had we never moved. I’m so grateful that we made the journey we did… so grateful for that still-small voice.