My son Aaron has been a wise teacher. In the twenty-five years that he has shared my life, I have learned many lessons. The most powerful ones have led to a deeper connection with myself and with him.
Let me tell you how this happened. In 1997, a week before my forty-third birthday, my husband and I sat in the office of a well-meaning child psychologist. We were given this diagnosis: we did not have the child that we thought we had. She insisted that we abandon all the dreams and expectations we had for our three-year-old son, urged us to give up any plans for his future and begin to deal with the fact that our son may never talk, hold a job or have a family, and he would be within his own autistic world for the rest of his life.
“Prepare yourselves for turbulent pubescent years,” she warned.
She assured us that we were about to enter into a life-long experience. Her prognosis was prophetic.
Books piled up on my night stand. Memoirs by parents who claimed triumph over autism were the most inspiring and hopeful. Yet, hiding under each sign of hope were doubt and cynicism. My doubt was triggered by prominent psychologists who used phrases such as “unknown causes,” “no known cure” and “severe disorder.” I wanted to know how to ‘fix’ my son and what I needed to do to make life the way it was supposed to be.
The four years that followed the diagnosis were like cramming for an exam that was to last a lifetime. My calendar filled up with appointments with pediatricians, therapists, mothers of other autistic children and educators. Our names were on waiting lists for treatment programs in California and Massachusetts, not knowing what difference any of it was going to make in Aaron’s life.
Sitting at the kitchen table, I faced a pile of reports as unanswered questions churned in my head. Paralyzed by the fog of confusion, I saw only one way to proceed: one report at a time. Then I received a wake up call.
“I think I’m having a heart attack!” I cried to my husband as I grabbed his arm at 2:00 in the morning. A few minutes after the ambulance arrived, I was in the ER answering more questions, except this time they were about me.
The wake up call was loud and clear. Something had to change. I knew I needed help but having never been in therapy of any kind, I did not know where to start or what to look for.
After the diagnosis, my coping strategies had served me well. I doubted the doomsayers and tried to cover all the bases before making decisions. But the same fears and anxieties that kept me moving forward to find treatments options for Aaron were the cause of health problems for me that could become fatal.
By chance I met Roxanne Howe-Murphy in 2002. Through personal coaching, she gently guided me into a lifetime of inner inquiry. I was stunned, embarrassed and humbled when I realized that I had been living life on automatic. That my reality was based on ideas and beliefs that were no longer true or even, real.
Through the years of work with Roxanne, the Enneagram and the Deep Living approach, I moved into deeper exploration of the unconscious patterns of my personality. I recognized how my identity as a mother felt challenged each time a doctor asked me questions I couldn’t always answer, such as, “What is he saying, why is he doing that, or what does he mean?” Guilt and shame clouded my already cluttered mind. But I began to see how my countless ’shoulds’ intensified the anxiety that was ever-present in my body.
Over the past sixteen years, the work with the Enneagram and the Deep Living approach has allowed me to trust in my inner authority and to develop practices that remind me to live from a place of presence. It has also allowed me to see the divine essence in my son and to be in awe at the unique being that he is.
Aaron has been on his own journey. He has learned how to share space with those who don’t understand him or who don’t know how to communicate with someone who does not respond with words. Yet he has touched the lives of many people and is loved by those who take the time to get to know him. From him, I’ve learned how to listen to the silence within and to trust in the unknown.