Anyone who knew me before 1996 knew that I did not want to have children. It was my mantra and a knee-jerk reaction to anyone who even lightly touched on the subject of kids. What most people didn’t know is the major reason I didn’t want to have children: Fear of having a child with a disability. I had no reason to be afraid. There was no family history of anyone on either my husband’s or my family being disabled.
In early 1996 one of my best friends — a career-woman like myself — announced that she was pregnant. I’d been married for nearly ten years then. My first thought was, “How could you?!” But later that evening, I thought seriously about having a child for the first time. I realized that I had no rational basis for fearing having a disabled child and I’d come to a point where I felt I could teach a child much about this world.
My husband agreed to my change of heart and in Late November that same year our son Chris was born.
When Chris was three months old we found out he had suffered a peri-natal stroke, resulting in mild cerebral palsy. When Chris was six months old we were told that he is partially blind. When Chris was six years old, he developed epilepsy and when Chris was seven years old he was diagnosed with autism.
When people first see Chris, they see a handsome young boy with thick, black curly hair, long-lashed brown eyes, a smattering of freckles across his cheeks and an easy smile. But whenever anyone witnesses one of his autistic melt-downs or one of his grand-mal seizures, or simply hears of the extent of Chris’ disabilities, they express pity.
Those who really get to know Chris see beyond these things and see an incredible individual who is – ironically – teaching us all about the world. In the first few months after Chris’ initial diagnosis of having had a stroke, I formed and incorporated the first pediatric stroke support group in the country. There I learned how people really need one another and can help each other in times of need.
When Chris was first diagnosed with heminopsia (a form of partial blindness) I learned the importance of educating the teachers and therapists and also learned our legislative process in seeing a bill from its inception to signing to make an accommodation for the blind to qualify for a handicapped parking permit in the state of Georgia. His epilepsy diagnosis offered opportunities for learning advocacy.
But it’s Chris’ autism that is teaching me the most. From a brain that thinks differently comes the most profound thoughts. I find that many times amid the stresses of my life, he has stated something so simply, so beautifully that I stop and marvel again at how much this “disabled” child has taught me and enriched my life. My only regret is that we waited so long to bring him into our lives.