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This Time Was Different, but Also The Same

I have a terrible memory, but I remember that day like it was yesterday.

I was a 23-year-old single mom. I was recently divorced, working 3 jobs, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. With one look, anyone would have seen that I was ready to break at any moment.

The doctor could see it too, I could tell.

I could tell by the way she tip-toed around the subject, like she just knew I needed a bit of hand holding.

I could tell by the way she kept pushing the appointment out, without ever saying why.

I could tell when she sat down on the floor next to me and softly asked if I had ever considered having my son evaluated for autism.

And I could tell by the way she cried with me, right there on the floor, for over an hour.

But this time, it was different.

You see, Autism, it changed me.

Autism made me a fighter.

Autism made me an advocate.

Autism made me strong.

I am no longer the mom that looks like she will break any moment.

I am no longer the mom that you need to tip toe around.

And I could tell this doctor knew that, too.

I could tell by how direct her questions were.

I could tell by the way she smiled and laughed during the appointment.

And I could tell by the way the words rolled off her tongue, with ease, as if she was asking about the weather.

Intellectual Disability.

If you are not a part of the special needs community, you probably don’t know what that means.

And if you are, your heart probably sunk a little bit as you read the words.

She said it so casually that I almost didn’t hear her.

There was no beating around the bush.

There was no hand holding, not for the strong mom.

She didn’t sit on the floor or cry.

Neither did I.

Instead, I smiled and shook my head.

I pretended to be unfazed by the fact that my son had been punching and kicking me through the entire appointment.

I used one hand to take notes and write down phone numbers while using the other to block punches.

I am a pro at doing doctor appointments, alone.

I am a pro at hearing labels, alone.

I am a pro at doing special needs, alone.

When the appointment was over, I gathered our things and calmly walked out of the office.

I chatted with the receptionist while trying to block out the yelling and vocal stimming.

I was so good at it, that I almost didn’t notice the eyes staring at me.

Special needs parents are used to the staring.

We are used to the staring in malls.

We are used to the staring in grocery stores.

No matter how used to it we are, getting the stares in a special needs doctor’s office stings a little more.

But this time, you couldn’t even see the sting on my face.

This time was different, but also the same.

This time I didn’t cry in the parking lot or on the way home, instead I made a mental list of all the things I needed to do.

I went home, made the phone calls and scheduled the appointments.

I put in PTO requests.

And once all the appointments were made and the calls were done, I broke down alone in my room.

This time I woke up. I showered and put on makeup, even though I felt like I couldn’t stand.

This time I went to work and joked with my co-workers, but I wore sunglasses so no one would see the tears in my eyes.

I wish that I could crawl in a ball and cry for days, like I did the first time.

I wish that I could skip work and ignore the to-do list to wallow in my heartbreak.

It would probably hurt a little less.

But I can’t, because I have to be the strong mom.

I have to go to work and make the phone calls and check off the to do lists.

I have to do all the things because no one else is going to do them.

The truth is that I am tired of being the strong one.

I am tired of holding it together.

I am tired of people labeling my son.

And I am tired of doing it alone.

I am sad and scared and stressed.

But mostly, I am just tired.

This time was different, but also the same. 

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