Assuming you have good relationships with them – which to a person we’ve had with all of ours – your child’s therapists become your friends; they leave and you mourn. They bring you the one blessing you want as much as anything. They help your child take the one step at a time they need in order to grow into the fullest expression of themselves that they can.
J-Man’s developmental therapist is moving away this week. Her last day is tomorrow. She’s worked with him for about 15 months now – almost half his life, and far longer than anyone else. When she started, he would become immediately frustrated and upset when you tried to get him to do most anything. Stacking two blocks together or putting a big plastic coin in an even bigger slot looked like asking him to climb Everest. Even being near an open container of Play-Doh would make him gag. Touching fingerpaint would make his little sensory system go into red alert. He had at best a handful of random, unclear words. If an activity took more than two seconds, he couldn’t sit still for it or complete it. It’s hard to realize that when we started working together, he also couldn’t walk on his own. And it would be some time before he did. He had only very recently started sleeping through the night at that point. We were worried, exhausted, and growing more distraught by the day. It was a very hard time.
I see how he still struggles, and every day I grapple at least some with keeping perspective and staying positive. With her leaving, it’s made me look back and see just how far he has come. She was there when we had no idea what was going on, she’s seen us through his autism diagnosis, and she’s given us the tools and resources to know where to go next. She’s given us a wealth of information on how to set up his new home classroom and a home program to complement everything else he’s doing. Over the span of the last few months, she’s poured out so much of what she knows into us. We’ve learned more than I imagined possible, and we have a plan. I hope I’ve been a good student.
She has given us something words cannot describe, but those of you who have been through this know exactly what it is.
In a couple of months, we’ll also say goodbye to his other preschool teachers and therapists as we move into the county school system. Her departure starts this season of transition and mourning that we won’t get to see these people every week who have meant so much to us. I’ll feel this way a lot over the summer as we keep saying goodbye. They have all been so wonderful to us. It’s impossible to adequately express our gratitude to them. They’ve kept us upbeat when we were struggling. They love every kid who walks in their doors and steadfastly refuse to give up on anybody. If they ever wonder how much their work matters in the grand scheme of things, they need only to ask people like me.
I’ve realized that this isn’t a sprint or race; it’s a marathon relay. It’s the kindness and commitment of these once-strangers who have seen us through this far. It is because of them that we have hope in the people we have not yet met and things that we have not yet seen.
Whether they are developmental, occupational, speech, physical, or another other kind of therapist, the ones who enter our lives and offer their hands, heads, and hearts to people like us are often unsung superheroes.
They are worth their weight in gold, and probably get paid their weight in recyclable plastic.
They are reimbursed for gas at about the same rate as pizza delivery people – except they can’t take tips.
They are energetic Macgyvers, making limitless supplies of therapy aids out of egg cartons and dollar-store junk. They don’t even need duct tape, though give them a laminator and they can rule the world.
They will stand on their heads if need be. They will come up with stuff that boggles the mind.
They see our son achieve his latest miracle, and they cry, too.
They’ve never grown up, and we love them for it.
They can turn animal crackers into an epic story.
They know how to work an inscrutable health care and insurance system to get what your child needs.
They will hold your hand and believe, even on the days you can’t. They know when to talk and when to stay silent.
They believe every child has a bright future. They don’t give up. They love each and every child just because. No one needs to prove anything to them first, and no one needs to earn their love.
They work for sticky hugs and don’t complain about the rest.
They still deserve more money.
As families come and go and as they themselves move from place to place, they often don’t get to see who ‘their children’ become. In many cases, at age 3 many of those kids move on. I hope that at 13, 23, or anywhere in between or beyond that I’ll be able to send them a story or two about the kind of person J-Man grows up to be – better yet that he will be able to write to them – and to say thank you for everything. They are as much responsible for the progress he has made as they are for all the things he will yet discover how to do.
Thanks, Meg. We owe you. May the dollar stores always have what you need for your magic therapy kits, and may all your days be blessed.