Why I Wave Goodbye to My Daughters With Autism Each Time They Leave for School


As I walked out the door of my triplets’ bedroom, my daughter, who I call “Sunshine,” did her typical end-of-the-day statements.

Sunshine: “Goodnight, Mommy”
Me: “Goodnight”
Sunshine: “Happy Dream”
Me: “Happy Dream”

Sunshine repeats these closing statements again and again as you walk out the door. We think it’s partially because she has to have the last word in everything. It’s a ritual she began a few months ago. And, every night I still hold my breath, waiting and hoping.

You see, once, out of the blue, as I was saying good night and only expecting a response back from Sunshine, I heard a second “Happy Dream” from my other daughter, who I call “Princess.” My mostly nonverbal child was wishing me a happy night just like her sister. Of course, I rushed back into the room, kissed Princess all over again and insisted she too have a happy dream of her own.

little girl on the school bus It seems a small event, and yet, to any mother of a child with speech or milestone delays, a moment like that makes your throat catch and brings tears to your eyes. It’s not just the moment in itself, it’s the uncertainty of whether the moment will repeat itself at all or with any regularity. It’s a moment you simply may not get again. It’s a moment to treasure.

Every school day I stand by the bus as Princess and my third, “Angel,” get buckled into their seats. I wait and I wave. When Grandma is there she watches me and says something like, “Do they see you?” or “I don’t think they care about waving today” and I never answer those statements. I wave goodbye every day until the bus turns left, and they can’t see me waving.

little girl being helped on the school bus Have my two autistic daughters ever waved back? No, not yet, but I still keep waving, because I’m Mom, and that’s what moms do. Because one day, my girls will wave back; one day, “bye-bye” will be part of their social world. Or, because one day there will be another moment, like when Angel looked directly into my eyes with recognition and pushed her tiny hand against the bus window as I waved. She kept her hand on the window until the bus turned left and I couldn’t see her anymore. So, yes, I wave. I wave every day.

Today’s post is my gift to all mothers of children with milestone delays or delayed development. We strive every day to teach our children, to presume competence, to hold our expectations high enough, to embrace our child’s differences and yet carefully recognize the fact that it could take up to 2,000 repetitions for our child with special needs to learn something that a typical child will likely learn in 200 repetitions. We balance expectations every day — not too low, not too high and realize that in addition to being Mom, we get to play therapist to our special children. Sometimes there are those days when we’d give almost anything to just be a parent, a simple, run-of-the-mill parent with “typical” expectations. Then without warning, we get a moment. A “Happy Dream” moment, a “wave bye-bye” moment, and all of a sudden nothing else matters but that moment. That moment when you absolutely, positively know how lucky you are to have this special child who shows you what life and love and joy really are.

three sisters in play cars

This post originally appeared on The Tripped Up Life.

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