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What Shocked Me When We Re-Watched This Video of My Son With Autism

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It’s that festive time of year where I insist my family sticks to all the traditions of years gone by, regardless of how old the kids have become or how horrific the tradition was last year. How quickly one forgets the swearing and cursing with each little hoof as we wander aimlessly searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Well, this year was no different. And after the tree was cut down, dragged to the car, rigged up in the family room (more swearing) and trimmed with ornaments of Christmas’ past, we made a solemn promise (through more swearing) that we will not do that again next year. Until next year rolls around, of course.

One tradition we all still love (I swear, it’s not just in my mind) is watching all of our favorite holiday movies. “The Grinch,” “Christmas Vacation,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Bad Santa” (that one is for Mom and Dad only) and our all time favorite, “The Polar Express” — the magical movie that makes us all want to believe.

“The Polar Express” was dug out of the Christmas movie archives and watched on Friday night.

As we all snuggle in under our blankets with the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the warmth of the fire, I think regardless of age, regardless of time, regardless of how many lights have burned out on that glorious traditional Christmas tree, in those two hours, each and every one of us does indeed believe. Believing is good for the soul.

We ask that children believe in Santa, believe in flying reindeer and believe in a magical train ride to the North Pole, all things they can’t see, and yet, they do. You know why? Children believe with their hearts. They don’t have to see to believe. “The most real things in the world are the things we can’t see,” said the Polar Express conductor and sadly, just days after watching and believing, I watched a different video that showed me sometimes even when I did see, I didn’t believe.

After a night out celebrating one of our dear friend’s birthday and a quick stop at another friend’s Christmas party, my husband Dan and I decided to throw in a DVD of some of our home movies at 10:45 p.m.. It was the highlight of my week.

Yes, there was a lot of nostalgic tears and the astonishment of why I ever wore my hair that way, but, mostly I sat mesmerized by this face. In the videos, my son Ryan was 3, not yet diagnosed with autism, but, both speech and OT services were in place for “developmental delays.”

While watching the videos, I certainly saw some of what concerned me back then. The brief eye contact, the looking out of the corner of his eyes, the scripting of the entire “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” video (which was freaking hysterical) and the way he was the only child in his daycare Christmas play sitting down, falling down and wandering around the stage. I saw in the videos glimpses of what was “different.”

But what amazed me, awenestly, what shocked me, was how in most ways he looked the “same.” The way he chased the dog, the way he asked for “another present for RyRy,” the way he followed his brother, the way he told us every shape of all the Christmas cookies he was baking with messy flour-covered hands and the way he ran to me, smiling from ear to ear after his daycare Christmas show and jumped into my arms with the most beautiful, heartfelt “Mommy!”

It was almost 1 a.m., and I couldn’t stop watching these videos. My husband was snoring loudly, and my daughter Emma was sound asleep with the glow of the Christmas lights shining on her face. I was alone with only these video images running through my brain, and the stark realization that at the magical, glorious age of 3, words like “developmental delay,” “sensory processing disorder” and “the A-word” were constantly at the forefront of my brain, blocking me from seeing and believing. This brain block caused me to focus on all I felt was “wrong,” blinding me to all that was “right”.

Ryan was funny, brilliant, snuggly, loving, rambunctious, beautiful and perfect, and I hate that I had to see that on a home movie. I hate that all those years ago, I did not see or believe… in him. Years later, through the lens of a camcorder I saw more that was the “same” than was “different.” I’m just sorry I didn’t see it with my own two eyes and believe with my heart as it was happening before me 11 years ago.

Ryan was, is and always will be awesome, and as I watched a much younger mom (with a horrific hairstyle) snuggle him, praise him, cheer for him and love him, I think even through my concern and fear, I always believed that, even though sometimes I failed to see it.

Sometimes you really do have to see to believe, and other times even seeing doesn’t help you believe. I guess that’s why believing… really, truly believing, has to come from your heart. Maybe back then, my heart was just too scared to believe what and who was right in front of me. Back in those days when the fear in my brain blocked the belief in my heart, I did in fact believe that “different” meant less. I worried that “different” stood out more than “same” and that “different” would always cause my heart to fear believing.

My hairstyle is better now, and my heart has certainly made a turn for the best. I am no longer a doubter, and every time I see my boy sing, every time I read a paper he has written for school and every time he almost knocks me down with his back pounding hugs, I hear “the bell ring.. .as it does for all who truly believe.”

Yes, I believe.

Christmas boys

Originally published: December 18, 2015
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