#5: Mighty Hand
Updated: Jan 20, 2018
This is it. The day I’ve been dreading for a week. The day we meet with the pediatrician.
I’m not dreading it because of the doctor himself. Dr. M is a kind, grandfatherly type with warm eyes and a calm demeanor. He first met E just over a year ago, when we moved here to Texas. He was the one who made the official referral to the Child Study Center for E’s evaluation – the evaluation that resulted in the ASD diagnosis.
No, I’m not dreading this appointment because of him. I’m dreading it because in my mind, hearing the diagnosis out of his mouth means it’s real. It’s final. It’s irrevocable.
For the last few nights I’ve had a recurring dream that Dr. M tells us he’s reviewed the evaluation and that it is flawed. It’s wrong. The diagnosis is incorrect. Then I wake up, holding my breath, yearning for it to be true.
It’s just a dream. A dream unrealized. Like my dreams for my son may be.
We drive to the pediatrician’s office in silence, the weight of what is ahead crushing our spirits. E plays quietly in his carseat, oblivious to the significance of this day.
After a short wait in the lobby a nurse ushers us into an exam room. It’s a room we’ve been in several times before. Today it feels different. More clinical. Cold. The walls are closing in.
I take a deep breath, trying to choke back the tears that are already forming. I lift E onto the exam table and pull out the baggie of Legos I always have on hand. He grabs them immediately and starts building. He’s in his happy place. I am not.
My husband and I take a seat on the hard, plastic chairs. I wrap my arm through his, willing him to be my strength at this moment. He’s always so strong. God, please let him be strong enough for both of us today.
A few minutes go by. We hear voices in the hallway. Other little patients. Other Moms. Moms worried about the runny nose, the fever, the cough. Ailments that will heal. Ailments they will not remember a year from now. A diagnosis that can be treated with rest, fluids, children’s medicine. Maybe a prescription. Not like ours.
My spiral into self-pity is interrupted by the creak of the door opening. Dr. M strides in and greets us, saying hello to E as well. E is in his own world, building happily. He doesn’t answer.
Dr. M takes a seat on his stool and begins, “I’ve reviewed the full report from the Child Study Center. Let’s talk about what it means, and some possible next steps. I’m also going to spend a few minutes with E doing some simple tests. Do you know much about the autism spectrum, or is this all new to you?”
AUTISM SPECTRUM. He said it. He’s not questioning the diagnosis at all. It’s real.
Oh God, it’s real. The blood is draining from my face.
My blank stare back at Dr. M must have answered his question, because he pauses, puts the medical chart and pen down, and leans forward on his stool. I grasp my husband’s arm even tighter.
“I know this diagnosis is not what you wanted to hear. I know it’s scary. But it’s not a death sentence,” he says. “What E needs most is a stable, loving home. Two parents committed to each other, and to him. It’s what EVERY child needs. He has that in you, so he’s already way ahead.” The tears are flowing down my face now, as I nod gratefully to him.
He continues, “My job is to help you get to the help he needs. And I will do all I can.”
“Thank you,” I squeak out between tears. It’s all I can get out. My husband squeezes my hand, trying to comfort me. Trying to share his strength.
Dr. M turns to E and begins to ask him what he is building. He speaks calmly, soothingly, coaxing E into responding.
He holds up a Lego and asks E what color it is. E looks at the Lego but doesn’t answer.
Dr. M tries a different tack. “E, is this Lego blue or red?” E responds: “Blue.”
“YES!” I think. “He knows his colors! He’s known them for a long time. He’s not dumb!”
The doctor works through a series of questions and interactions with E, my husband and I watching intently. I realize I am leaning forward in my chair, like a momma bear. Ready to pounce. Ready to protect my little cub.
Dr. M leans back, turning toward us.
“E is fundamentally very intelligent,” he begins. “He needs help with processing, and communicating. There will be a lot of work to do on social skills development as well, but there’s time. He’s young. I’m going to do a referral for speech therapy and occupational therapy. The therapists there will do their own baseline evaluation, and then work with you on a plan and schedule going forward.”
Finally, concrete next steps. A plan. I feel a stab of hope. At least for a moment.
In the next second, fear floods in. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the therapies not working. Fear for my baby boy’s future.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
The words of Isaiah 41 are suddenly in my ears. It’s the Bible verse we repeat with E every night at bedtime.
I will strengthen you, and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The goosebumps are back. The tingling on my scalp. He’s here with us. He’s not surprised by any of this. He’s holding us in His right hand. Failure is not in His vocabulary.
I squeeze my husband’s hand like I’m clinging to the hand of God.
We can do this. We HAVE to do this.
Failure is no longer in my vocabulary.