Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Life with Matthew

**This is a very honest and real look into my life as a mother to a special needs child. Please do not judge.**

The 2013-2014 school year was perhaps my most challenging year as a teacher.  Not because of my students, because I was blessed with a fairly easy class.  It was more of the balance of my personal life and school.

Last year on August 1st, my family and I arrived on the beautiful island of Okinawa, Japan.  This was the place that we will now call home until the summer of 2015.  We arrived with no house, nothing more than what fit in our suitcases, and no job for me.  Sometimes that is the most challenging part of being a military spouse: picking up and making a home in a strange land, with little to nothing to start with.

Luckily, I was hired while still living in a hotel room, moved into our house on Friday with school starting on Monday.  It was an insane time for us.  But I survived with the help of my colleagues.
It was not long into the school year when we quickly realized my Matthew, in Kindergarten, was not transitioning well.  He had always been delayed but we could never really put our finger on what was wrong.  So, when his teacher explained what was happening in class (hiding, screaming, unable to communicate) I ran to the school psychologist.  I think I always knew, but was unwilling to admit it...my child is autistic.  She was hesitant to use the term until she started working with him.  She was wonderfully honest with me and 100% agreed with my suspicions.  She got me set up with the best doctors on island and by December Matthew had his diagnosis.  This was bitter sweet.  

When your child is born, you start to have dreams for them.  You think about colleges, and marriages, and grandchildren.  You think about all the major life experiences that you treasure and have high hopes for your babies.  Well, I did too.  And suddenly I felt like it was all taken away.  I felt like the hopes and dreams I had for him died that day.  I was mourning. 

However, Matthew was able to get an IEP, he began receiving services and an aid.  He was enrolled in Speech, and OT and Special Education classes.  They worked on social skills, reading, math, communication (both verbal and non verbal).  He was getting help!  BUT, things did not change over night and I was still struggling to cope.

I saw the children in my classroom and wished things were as easy for him.  I watched the way children reacted to Matthew and it made me cry.  they did not understand and I had no way to make them.  Other parents would tell their children to stay away from "that boy."  I would hear parents whisper, "If that was my kid I would beat him." Yes, that REALLY happened, more than once!  I tried to find, but was unable to find anything here on island, a parents' support group.  Nothing, I felt so alone and so sad.

Then, I started reading anything and everything I could find.  Autism Speaks has so many wonderful resources for parents, and siblings, and teachers.  Facebook had some virtual support groups and tons of resources to read. Through all this reading and building a more structured environment, I started to realize that I did not lose a child, he was still here!  He was even better than anything I could have hoped for.  My child sees the world in ways most of us just gloss over.  He sees beauty in EVERYTHING, he loves to dance (and boy does he!), he loves with his whole being.  It may take him awhile to connect with some one, and it may not seem he is always there, but he is.

He still has out burst and doesn't always play with the other kids, but he is trying now.  I was honest with the parents in the classroom and soon all the kids loved Matthew and the Parents would find ways to connect with him too.  Things started to get better.  One little girl who read exceptionally well in Kindergarten, would read Matthew his favorite books.  her mom even remembered Matthew's birthday and brought him a giant blue snake balloon (3 of his favorite things in 1: blue, snakes, and balloons) for him.  I cried I was so thankful.  It was beyond sweet!!!

On the last day of school, Matthew had to say goodbye to one of his aids.  As is the life with the military, she was moving back to the states.  We always knew he loved Ms.G. He would scream at her, and push her buttons, but he always wanted her around.  Well, this last day of school, my sweet Matthew grabbed Ms. G's face, made her look at him, put his nose to her nose and whispered, "I miss you forever, Ms. G."  Oh Bother, not a dry eye in the room I tell you!  That boy can love and he knows when to show it!

So, all that worry of my hopes and dreams dying with his diagnosis was garbage. Not only do I KNOW my child will graduate High School, not only do I KNOW that Matthew will go to some sort of college, I also know that he WILL love.  He may not ever get married, he may not ever have children. That is OK.  Matthew brings so much joy and laughter to our lives.  He is perfect and will be just fine.  

We often find life's balance once our whole world has been turned upside down.  I was someone who had thought she had her life in order. However, Matthew has taught me to take one day at a time, not to sweat the small stuff, and to laugh.  My goodness...LAUGH!  When stress of school, being a taxi service to your football/lacrosse/soccer playing preteens, personal chef and maid to a family of 5, and being the sole advocate for your special needs child starts to get to much, I just curl up with Matthew and he makes the whole world seem simpler. :)

This is the day we got Oscar (Meyer the Wiener Dog), Matthew's "therapy" dog.  These 2 are inseparable.

I wish I could let everyone meet him.  Just being around him makes you smile.  Sometimes there are dinosaurs chasing us in the car, or power rangers fighting in the backyard, he hands you invisible things and expects you to still have them hours later (just put them in your pocket!!!!). His imagination is out of this world, but that is something that makes life so fun with Matthew.

Sometimes life isn't exactly what we expect, sometimes its even better!  

I hope that you can find the simple things in life and I hope everyone gets to work with and love a Matthew of their very own!  Thanks for sticking around for such a long post.  Have great week!


  1. Amy,
    What a touching and heartfelt post. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a tear in my eye as I read of your beautiful Matthew. He is such a special child!

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

  2. Oh Amy...how blessed is Matthew to have you as a mommy.
    I love someone with autism too. My nephew is 6 and non-verbal. He is the sweetest, most loving child and his face just lights up when he "gets" something. He's better at technology than any of us. It's his "thing". He loves to scream and run up and down the halls or just sit in your lap and let you read a book to him. Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your life with Matthew. XOX
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  3. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I am touched and inspired!

  4. Hi Amy -

    Just found your blog through the linky and was warmed by your story. I also love someone with autism - my nephew, who is 17. He brings such joy to us.

    My third graders study Japan and am looking forward to learning more about your life there.

    Learning in the Little Apple