Even though I’m not young I have an important story to tell. I want to tell you about my middle son. His name is Justin and he is 26 years old. He is severely autistic and has never said a word. A month before his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He spent three months in the hospital re-learning to walk, sit, stand and use his hands again and he was smiling and laughing every time he gained back a skill. At the beginning of this year he was diagnosed as bi-polar and spent two weeks in hospital in the psychiatric ward to help control his severe mood swings. He’s back home now and doing well and happy in his daily programme.
Through the years I’ve been through a lot with Justin. From the time he was born I’ve been there for him. I was there for him when he spent time in a children’s hospital because at five months old he was only on the level of a six week old infant and the doctor told me ‘he won’t do much of anything when he grows up.’ I cried my heart out when he sat up for the first time.
Do you have any idea what it’s like to explain for the millionth time to some stranger that your child can’t talk because he has autism? He isn’t deaf. He isn’t stupid or retarded! And I hate to admit it but, sometimes I would get jealous of mothers who have a child that is healthy and normal. It made me feel like some sort of monster. But I didn’t want pity or sympathy. I didn’t want anybody to say “It’s okay.” It’s not okay! I have a child with Autism, MS and now Bi-polar. It will never be okay. So, I keep my feelings inside. Some of them come out when I write my plays.
But keeping most of my feelings inside came with a price. Back in November, I spent two weeks in the hospital myself due to stress and exhaustion and was diagnosed with ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’ But my spirit isn’t broken. I carry on taking care of my family, writing my play and directing plays with my local community theatre.
My family helps out more to take a lot of the burden off me but Justin still needs his mom.
When he was in second grade, the class was given an assignment to write a fill in the blanks poem. I have a copy of it somewhere where he filled in his blanks. He wrote “I wish I had a voice/ I wish I could say words/ I wish I would talk so much/ I wish I was like everybody else.” Let me go on being his voice.
~ Sondra Learn, Burlington, Ontario, Canada