BY KIMBERLEE RUTAN McCAFFERTY Justin bursts into the conference room, sees me, and stops dead in his tracks. A huge smile engulfs his entire face, and he quickly resumes the trajectory that will invariably end in a hug and a kiss from me. The rest of his IEP team laughs at his exuberant welcome, and I smile, grateful every day I get this greeting so frequently. After a few brief kisses Justin is led away by his speech teacher to a seat opposite me at the oblong table, and I quickly whip out my camera and cell phone to record the historic event about to take place. For today you see, my 11-year-old son
will read a book out loud to me for the very first time. We’ve been building up to this moment for months (well, really years,) as I’ve witnessed his struggles with even rudimentary speech go by the wayside as he’s acquired ten, then 20, then 30 words and word approximations. He’s been reading word lists to me for weeks, then reciting them from memory (sadly I’m quite certain my brain can no longer accomplish this feat.) Every syllable has been a thrill, but as always, I wanted more.
When it comes to my kids, I always do. Somehow in my middle-aged muddle I managed to have the bright idea that if Justin could read word lists aloud, he could do the same with a book which incorporated his vocabulary list. I mentioned it to his speech teacher, and I swear within three seconds she’d outlined a plan to accomplish this goal. Now we just had to sit back and see if
Justin thought our concept was as fabulous as we did. His speech teachers asked me to come to school for the unveiling, so we aligned it with his IEP meeting, and kept fingers crossed he wouldn’t have a meltdown afterwards when he realized I wasn’t taking him home (he didn’t– maturity reigns once more.) So, on a rainy November day, I found myself holding back tears (I had an IEP meeting to get through after all) and listening to my child read aloud with obvious pleasure and pride in his task.
There is nothing more beautiful to me than the sound of his voice. All too soon phrases like “help me,” “push me,” and my favorite, “hi mama” were concluded, and it was time for my son to return to class (after another round of hugging of course.) He literally beamed with pride at the grand finale of “the end,” was clearly so pleased with himself and his accomplishment.
Everyone in that room was equally proud of him too. Justin left without protest, and in the few moments afforded me with the passing out of legal documents (thank God no more hard copies of PRISE… I could wallpaper a room with those green pamphlets.) I had time to reflect on the magnificent event I’d just witnessed.
A book read aloud by a boy I’d been told would probably never read. A book read aloud by a boy I’d been told would probably never talk. A hug and kiss by a boy I’d been told at his 18 month milestone might regress into a world devoid of affection, not one replete with love.
Once again, the doctors, the chat rooms, and the internet were so undeniably wrong. As I sign the fiftieth legal document apprising me of rights I could recite in my sleep, I recall this undeniable truth about Justin’s life. He will continue to make progress in his own way, on his own schedule,
and with his own incredible leaps and bounds. I remind myself once more that this is one of the most beautiful parts of his life, and mine. And of course, so is he.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty has written several articles for Exceptional Parent Magazine. She is also the author of Raising Autism: Surviving the Early Years, a memoir about parenting her two boys, both of whom have autism. Her new book is available on the web: www.amazon.com