When you first find out the child you cherish with all your being has special needs, so begin what I call the dark days.
I got the news opening the mail nonchalantly one sunny afternoon to find a letter with the results of my toddler’s psychological testing. Page one was full of data I didn’t fully understand, but by the time I reached the bottom of page two, it hit me, hard. The diagnosis, two words in black and white – mental retardation – jumped off the page and brought me to my knees.
This clinical news that would change our life was delivered 30 years ago by mail. “By mail?” you scratch your head. By mail – for God’s sake! – without caring or compassion. Welcome to the 1980s.
I don’t remember much more about that day, except for stirring spaghetti sauce through sobs, waiting for my husband to come home.
His reaction was calm. “She’s my little girl, and I’ll take care of her no matter what,” sums up what he was feeling.
Not me. Mommy was a mess. Couldn’t look at my daughter without crying. Couldn’t bring myself to believe this diagnosis would be her fate, wanting desperately to make it go away. In the muddle of days that followed, I struggled just to put one foot in front of the other, my heart shattered, for her.
In time, I came to realize that this child, with all her imperfections, is the child she was meant to be, entrusted to me.
When the darkness lifts, and it does, better to tuck this trauma into a faraway compartment of my mind, with little reason to revisit and every reason to move forward.
After all, can we do special needs? Hell yes, we can do special needs!
“I’ll stop at nothing,” I vow. “I’ll read every book, talk to experts, keep up on the latest research, find tutors and therapies, and look under every rock for answers.” The only thing I left out was climb every mountain, ford every stream, and follow every rainbow.
While you are doing all that,” my husband smiles, “I’ll be Daddy, having fun playing with her and taking her places. You know she loves going to Home Depot with me.”
You can’t stay sad forever.
The words "mental retardation" are not politically correct today, too often misused in derogatory fashion. No matter the terminology, the unwelcome diagnosis for every family cuts deep.
In the past 25 years, the lexicon of disability terms has changed repeatedly, hard even for us to keep up with. Our description of our daughter's disability has evolved from mental retardation to developmental delay, developmental disability, and now intellectual disability. Stay tuned for more.
In the meantime, we most like calling her ours.