Today is the Boy's birthday. Matt is 16. I have the grey hairs to prove it. Life has been an adventure with this boy, that is for sure. He does things his way and on his watch. He doesn't have the same concept of time the rest of us do, nor does he have an inner monitor. What pops into his head comes out of his mouth. Sometimes it comes in handy, like when someone's cell phone goes off in church and he turns around and lets them have it. Because of his disability, he can get away with it. He still gets the obligatory elbow in the side, because despite the fact that he's missing a filter, I still have the responsibility to teach him right from wrong. But like I said, there are definitely times when we appreciate his brutal honesty.
When Matthew was 3, his pre-school teacher told me to have his hearing tested because despite how many times she called him, he never answered her. Took him to the pediatrician and his hearing tested just fine. When he got to kindergarten, he couldn't stop talking about Thomas the Tank Engine. At first, the other kids enjoyed it. But as they progressed to other things, it got tiresome, and they let him know it. When it was no longer Thomas, it was Godzilla, and then it was Star Wars and then War of the Worlds. Increasingly, he grew more isolated from his classmates, captured by thoughts of his own mind.
One of the most painfully excruciating moments of my life came at the end of a school day when he sobbed into my shoulder that no one ever invited him to birthday parties. "It's because I'm so stupid," he sobbed. I did my best to keep my own composure and asked him if someone in his class was having a birthday. He didn't answer me. I told him I never got invited to many parties either and though being left out is something that hurts our feelings, we can't let it get us down. I did my best to assure him that he was not stupid either.
We went for counseling to help his self esteem. Then we went for testing. The first psychiatrist I took him to told me he was schizophrenic. I cried all the way home from the appointment, but something told me he was wrong. The pediatrician called me in the middle of a beautiful Saturday afternoon. She, too, had been given the same report and she didn't want me to worry. She didn't agree with the doctor at all. "Give me a week to find someone else for you."
Dr. W was a bit scatter-brained and disorganized, but what she was was right on target with her diagnosis and prescription for help. Pervasive developmental delay. Matt was on the autistic scale of disorders. He had severe OCD, which prevented him from being able to learn anything. We got him into a school with a special autistic support program and watched our isolated, depressed child become transformed into a decent student with some confidence and self esteem. He quickly became the darling of all the teachers, custodians and administrators and when he graduated, they gave him a special award created just for him. "When no one else would talk to me", one of the teachers explained at commencement, "Matt always would, and he listened, too."
Again, I cried.
When he started high school, we worried constantly because we couldn't get him into the school of our choice and he wasn't profoundly disabled, so we couldn't even get him into a private school that would have meant mortgaging ourselves to the hilt. Matt couldn't understand why he couldn't go where he wanted. Counseling helped with the rejection but what helped most of all were the tons of friends he started making. Some of them, like him, are the kind of kids that society treats as rejects. I often wondered why God would give an impatient person like me such a child, but I now know why. Because Matt has taught me to have patience and understanding, not only with him but with the kids he brings home, many of whom do not have two loving parents or the benefit of professional help and counseling. Matthew has also taught me to make the most of mortification and let go of pride.
Anyway, today was his day, so we let him pick where he wanted to go to dinner. He also decided to get his own cake, picking out a Star Wars theme in chocolate, complete with Darth Vader armed with light saber. Matt was pretty excited when he got home from Mass because he'd been asked to help with the collection. "What do you think", I asked him "maybe it's time to lend your help as an altar server."
He beamed from ear to ear. "Maybe" was all he said.