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As Janey nears adulthood

As Janey nears adulthood

 I’ve had a very hard time getting myself to write a blog entry lately.  I think this is because next month, Janey will be 18.  She will be an adult.  It’s hard to believe, as is the case with any child turning into an adult.  But in Janey’s case, it’s more bittersweet than it is with most children.  

I keep feeling like I need to somehow sum up Janey’s childhood, to tie it up in writing.  And of course I can’t.  And of course also, her 18th birthday is just a number.  To her, it won’t make a difference.  She doesn’t understand what it means, in any way.  To us, it’s going to change things mostly just in that we need to get legal guardianship of her.  It won’t change our daily life at all. But still—it feels like a milestone, or in some ways, like a deadline that has run out.

I guess there are two ways we can view Janey’s childhood.  

One way, the more positive way, is that it’s been a journey to acceptance, to understanding.  I can say a few things completely honestly.  Janey’s intellectual disability, which is very significant, seems completely unimportant to me in terms of how I see her.  I don’t think it means a lot in terms of who she is, her core personality, her Janey-ness.  I can also say that she is a joy to us, that Tony and I can’t picture what our life would be without her, that we love her as much as it’s possible to love someone.

I noticed as writing that last paragraph that it wasn’t really about Janey.  It’s about our feelings toward her.  And that is mostly because I truly have no idea how Janey feels about her life.  But I hope she would also say that as the years of her childhood went by, things got better.  We came to understand what she liked and what she didn’t, we got her into schools that increasingly valued her and made her days interesting, we learned what we could ask her to do and what she wasn’t going to be able to do.  I hope she is content with her life at this point.

The other way to view her childhood is, well, in some ways a tragedy, a failure.  I don’t say that because it’s how I feel about it, but looking at it from the outside, I am sure that some might.  She went from a two year old who talked a lot, and who despite not walking until very late, seems destined to be a typical child, to a near 18 year old who has never, ever recovered speech after her huge regression to anywhere close to her two year old level.  Academics have never really kicked in for her.  She might know a few letters and numbers here and there, but she can’t write, can’t read, can’t do any math.  She speaks in familiar phrases, with very few exceptions.  She isn’t toilet trained completely, she struggles to dress herself, she will never be able to live alone or hold a job.  She is not one of the autism-overcoming success stories that inspiring books or articles tell of.

But maybe there’s a third way of looking at it.  I thought of this when seeing Facebook posts about girls she, long ago, was in preschool with. They were graduating from high school, going to proms, being valedictorians, getting accepted to college.  I might have thought, once, that this would be hard for me to see, but, in total honesty, it wasn’t.  I was happy for those girls, very happy.  I didn’t think about how Janey wasn’t doing those things.  What kept coming into my head was “They are living their path.  Janey is living hers”

None of us live with any guarantees or certainties about how our lives will turn out.  No-one can say, when holding their precious newborn for the first time, what path that child’s life will take.  What if we radically accepted that, if we were able to just celebrate what our child does do, what she brings to the world?  I’m saying this while fully admitting I can’t do that totally.  Part of the reason, much of the reason, is that I don’t know if Janey wants her life to be the way it is.  I just don’t know that.  I will write more about my thoughts on that in another blog entries, hopefully soon.  But I will say it’s not really up to me, it’s not something I should say, to decide if Janey’s life is a triumph or a tragedy or somewhere in-between.  And I think a source of much of my sadness when thinking about her life is that she herself can’t tell me that answer.

So—I can’t sum up Janey’s childhood.  But I’ll say this.  It’s been quite a ride.  And I know it will continue to be so.  And I will continue to write about it, maybe more than I have lately, because autism doesn’t end with the end of childhood.  Janey, we will be with you as long as we draw breath, and we very much hope we can give you the adulthood you deserve.

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