I have started and deleted post after post this week. The words have been stuck somewhere between my heart and my hands and no matter what I have tried, I just could not articulate what I was feeling. Some say everything happens for a reason, so maybe the heart-wrenching post I attempted to write all week is instead replaced with a heart-filled post.
On Tuesday, the girl and I attended her high school ‘Senior Breakfast’. This is a time for family and friends to come together and share the accomplishments of the K-12 educational experience. An accumulation of memories, successes, accomplishments, and of course, friendships. Keeping in mind for someone with autism the examples that fall within those categories are usually nothing like those of the typical high school senior, but regardless it was intended to be a morning of celebration for all.
And for many it was. For me, I was again a stranger in a land that was foreign. I was lost in the sea of smiling families and the chatter of young adults. My eyes stung with tears and my ears hurt with the swirling sounds of conversations. Again I was the observer and my girl sat close to me attempting her very best to be part of this special day.
Years she has spent sitting in classrooms, lunchrooms, art class, and even recess playgrounds with these same students and not one single word was spoken to her during this breakfast. It was as if she was invisible. There are 350 graduates in this class and not one person said hello to my girl. Not one.
I was grateful that she wanted to leave early. As I watched her sit uncomfortably silent, I was drowning in my emotions and wanted out. I drove home cherishing the capping ceremony card that she had written down the words, “I love her a lot”. We never made it through the capping ceremony–imagine getting up in front of hundreds of people, having someone read the words, hugging your mom and having a photo taken. No way. She was out.
Another day and another breakfast.
Today in a completely different celebration people spoke to her and she was honored for her efforts. The elementary school where she spent the semester working as a volunteer in the library held their appreciation breakfast this morning. Today there were no tears fought back. The years of fighting and advocating, and sometimes pleading, for purposeful educational experiences all came together for this special day. Today was the day where I saw that she no longer has to try to fit in, instead she truly belongs and she is connected. She is part of something that supports who she is. At today’s breakfast I watched her smile, interact, and have confidence.
In the weeks to come there will not be any words spoken about scholarships or GPA or letters of acceptance. Instead, there will be a heart-felt success of her own courage and her own accomplishments. It is a shame that some of those 350 graduates can’t see what she has done. There are no big awards for the ‘best librarian aide’ or for the student that courageously tried.
The post that needed to be written was this one. Not one of sadness and pain, but instead one of hope, courage and compassion. Most important, it is a post about the value of belonging.