My four-year-old son loves snow. He starts watching Christmas movies in July and as soon as the leaves start to turn shades of red and orange, he begins every day by racing to the window to peer outside.
“Nope. Not today, Mom. It’s still summer,” he sighs, disappointed in the green grass and sunny skies. (He did not get his love of winter from me, that is certain.)
By Halloween, his snow shovel stands proudly on the deck waiting for the first few snowflakes to gather. He asks to get dressed in his winter gear “just to make sure it all works, mom.”
It’s safe to say that snow is his favorite thing.
This winter, while Jaxson was in the hospital with pneumonia, he didn’t miss a beat. “I wonder if it snowed today, mama,” he said every morning. It was only slightly sad to see his disappointment because it was just like any other day without snow.
Except, it did snow, for the first time this winter, while Jax was in the hospital.
Rather than see his heartbreak and have to calm his anger, I kept the shades drawn and made a note for the door “Do not talk about the snow outside!” I wanted to protect my son from the harsh reality that he was not going to be able to play outside during the first snowfall of the season. My mama’s heart was already weary from seeing him back on oxygen support and I didn’t want to see sadness on top of sickness.
I hid from what was happening right outside the window.
I was hiding from something else, too.
Logically, I knew Jax was at a higher risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because of the factors surrounding his premature birth. But I wanted to keep the shades of truth drawn and hide from that statistic. So when he was referred for an evaluation, I secretly hoped that the process would reveal that I was a terrible mom and blame me for Jaxson’s behavioral and social differences. I steeled my mama’s heart and prepared to handle that assessment because I could change.
My son has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I’ve processed this news differently than usual. Most of the time, I process things by laying it all out on the line. Writing helps me make sense of things in a way that is impossible for me to do otherwise. When I write and press publish, it’s like the Universe helps gobble up my stress and anxiety.
This time, it took me a while to gather up the courage to talk about this diagnosis. Maybe it’s because we have been working under the pretence that Jax would eventually “catch up” to his peers. A pervasive disorder like ASD means that he might not ever catch up to his peers. That’s ok with us, but it’s a hard switch to make, in my head and in my heart.
The label of ASD does not change Jax. His smile still lights up the room and the laughter that bubbles up from his soul is contagious. He’s funny, kind, creative, and I could not be any more proud to be his mama. What the diagnosis does do is open up avenues of support and resources that will help my husband and I be the very best parents for our little boy.
In the hospital, I finally decided to open the curtains and show Jax the truth about the snow. He was sad and cried giant crocodile tears. “My shubel, mama! I need my shubel,” he wailed. Luckily, right then, the doctors came with his discharge papers.
“We get to go home, Little Buck!” I said with a smile. His face lit up with excitement, he was going to get to play in the snow after all.
“Mama! Look – it’s beautiful,” he said as he looked out the window again.
Jax never fails to remind me that a change in perspective is often all it takes to recognize the beauty right in front of me. I know he will continue to show me the way as we celebrate his strengths and support his growth, Autism and all.
A version of this post first appeared on An Early Start.