The Moment I Lost Hope For My Special Needs Son And How I Got It Back

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

After five long years of graduate school, I am finally (finally) finished. Last week was my graduation ceremony and it was like coming full circle. Five years ago, Norrin was diagnosed with autism – two weeks before I graduated as an undergrad. Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine what our life would be like. I couldn’t see any hope in either of our futures. And because I couldn’t see any hope, it was hard for me to be happy. It had taken me fifteen years to complete my Bachelor’s Degree – yet I couldn’t appreciate what I had just accomplished. It felt meaningless.

Last week as I marched with 500 other students to Pomp and Circumstance, I allowed myself to feel happy and I felt proud. Not only proud of myself but proud of Norrin. I was able to appreciate how far we’d both come. I was grateful for all that my son had taught me over the last five years – so much more than could have been learned in any classroom.

When the ceremony was over, I met my parents, Joseph (my husband) and Norrin. I removed my gown and cap and Norrin asked if he could put on my “hat.” I immediately helped him put them on. My dad laughed and said, “It’ll be Norrin’s turn in a few more years.”

And in my head, I thought Norrin’s not going to be able to go to college. As soon as I thought it, I felt ashamed. Had I lost hope? Or was I being realistic? I’ve been struggling with this for the last few days.

I believe in Norrin. I see the progress he’s made and appreciate every single milestone he’s achieved – it’s the stuff that keeps me going. We tried sending Norrin to a regular public school for kindergarten, a school filled with “typical” kids. It didn’t work. The following September when I put Norrin on the bus to his new special needs school, I let go of mainstream dreams.

So the idea…the dream of Norrin going to college. It hurts to hope for. I want to be realistic and I want to have hope but line between reality and hope is blurred.

Yesterday I was walking through Central Park with a co-worker. She has a eighteen year old son with autism. I’ve met her son before and he reminded me of an older, more mature version of Norrin. She talked about her son taking Regents exams and the SATs. She shared that she hoped he did well enough to get into the two-year college near her home.

As she was telling me all of this, I thought of Norrin in my graduation cap and gown and what my father said. “Did you imagine your son applying to colleges when he was seven old?” I asked my co-worker.

She laughed, “Oh no…he wasn’t even really speaking very much. I couldn’t bring him into work, the way you do with Norrin.”

I don’t know what the future holds for Norrin. I don’t know what he’ll be like in the next five or ten years. I don’t know if he’ll ever go to college or even if he’ll want to. But the possibility is there. The hope is there.


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