Notes on Nolan | Underneath the Windowsill | Written by Amy Mikla
Recently, a story was shared with me about a young girl with autism whose birthday happened to fall on a school day.
As this little girl, not more than 5 years old, entered the building in the morning, her teachers with smiles on their faces, and love in their hearts, got down to her eye-level and joyfully wished her a ‘Happy Birthday.’
This sounds really nice, right?
However, instead of allowing their child the opportunity to simply reciprocate the smiles and excitement that were being expressed to their daughter -- on her day -- the parents sternly told the teachers not to bother because, “she doesn’t understand what birthdays are anyway.”
Hearing this story really pulled at me; actually stopped me in what I had been previously doing, as I moved about my kitchen while listening.
I was instantly taken aback and so sad for this little girl.
I was feeling upset with these adults who I don’t even know.
And my knee-jerk reaction was to be very judgmental over these parents’ actions.
But then, later that evening after the kids were in bed and everything was still, I replayed the telling of this story in my head, and started to reflect a little bit; I took a step back and began to look inward.
How many times have I doubted my very own son, Nolan, who also has autism?
Is he socially and emotionally ready to attend Kindergarten?
Will he ever be able to respond to a ‘yes or no’ question?
Will he ever be able to partake in a short conversation?
Will he ever show any interest in a sport?
Will there ever be a time when he seeks out his siblings just to be near them?
Each morning after getting Nolan buckled in on the school bus, I stand there on the street, feverishly waving, hoping that today is the day that I’ll get a wave back.
Will he ever reciprocate gestures?
These are different circumstances, but they can still be considered as doubt, nonetheless.
Let me tell you something…
Even though Nolan cannot always verbally express his understanding, I know that he is brilliant in ways I cannot fully articulate.
More times often that not, he exceeds expectations when he is put in scenarios that could be very anxiety-inducing for him.
He surprises us all with his grasp of numbers, phrases he suddenly says, and then follows a direction from the other room when I didn’t even think he was listening.
His bravery shines like the brightest star.
Nolan amazes me.
And still, I have doubted him.
That is embarrassing to say out loud.
But, I am human.
Maybe some of what we think and say and doubt, comes from fear.
We just want our kids to be okay.
Were those parents just trying to protect their own emotions? To not get their hopes up that this might finally be the time when their daughter actually beams from ear to ear when someone wished her a ‘Happy Birthday?’
Was their response based on the fear that their child might not ever show excitement over her birthday or other holidays?
I also think the bigger picture here with myself and perhaps the parents that I previously mentioned, is that sometimes we lose faith in our children’s abilities and capacity to learn or understand; we haven’t seen it before, so he or she must not be able to do it… or might not ever be able to do it.
The very definition of faith is having trust or confidence in someone or something; blind faith is having that same confidence even though you’ve not seen it with your own eyes.
I needed to be reminded.
I am reminded that what we see of Nolan on the outside, is the result of how hard he is working on the inside.
I am reminded that there are days of progressions and regressions, and it’s really hard to make sense of it all sometimes.
I am reminded that just because I cannot always hear his voice, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t heard me, or that he doesn’t have a whole mind of thoughts and opinions that are racing back and forth, just not able to be shared.
I am reminded that even though my eyes haven’t seen him master a particular skill, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t or can’t.
I am making an attempt to trust in all that I know about Nolan.
He deserves my faith in him.
My little boy who is learning every day, and who is trying his very best to fit in, deserves my unwavering trust and confidence.
No matter what, he’ll always have my love.
Since I was told this story, my thoughts have shifted.
I now choose to believe that Nolan is waving as the school bus pulls away from the curb on its journey to school each morning.
For all I know he’s been waving this whole time; his hand is just out of sight from my eyes… just underneath the windowsill.