by: Keischa Pruden
I look back over our years together and I am amazed, grateful, and feel blessed. Our journey has not been easy. But the further along we travel this winding, bending road called life, the more I understand that our struggles have not been just for us. Our lives have not been just or us. Our lives have inspired others to have faith, to keep going despite obstacles, and to love unconditionally.
You were over a year old when your speech left you. Your dad and I were young parents and very afraid. We didn’t know what was going on or what to do. All we knew was that we would do anything to restore your speech. As time went on, we started to notice other challenges you faced: tying your shoes, buttoning your shirts and pants, and your refusal to eat anything but macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, and french fries. When you began school at age 4, we also discovered that handwriting was difficult for you as well. We gathered all of the resources we could to help you improve, but there were still sad and troubling days for all of us. Your father’s and my heart would break seeing you make progress one day, only to lose it seemingly overnight. But one thing brought us so much joy: hearing you sing “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly when you were about 4. It had been so long since we heard your voice! All we could do was cry.
Time continued to pass and you continued to make progress. God blessed you with angels on Earth to help you along the way. At age 9, you finally received the diagnosis that explained your struggles: Asperger’s Syndrome. We were glad to finally put a name to what seemingly had you bound. Nevertheless, you kept going. Your baby brother, Bryant, arrived and you became his biggest protector and caregiver. You found joy and accomplishments through drawing, playing with legos and bionicles, and anime. High school wasn’t easy, but you continued to push through every obstacle. Playing football and wrestling seemed to bring you happiness. Then, it happened. In 2014, you graduated high school. So many people told us you would never be able to graduate high school (on the college track and with a Microsoft certification), but you did it. The year you spent in college was one of the most fun times we all had. You were finally able to be independent and experience life without us. We enjoyed the times we visited you on campus. Seeing you make friends and enjoy college life remains one of my most fondest memories. I regret we could not afford for you to continue your studies.
We gathered all of the resources we could to help you improve, but there were still sad and troubling days for all of us. Your father’s and my heart would break seeing you make progress one day, only to lose it seemingly overnight.
Son, please allow me to apologize. I have had so many failings as a parent. There were times I didn’t understand what was going on with you and punished you. There were years of me working so hard to help you look, sound, or appear “more normal”, not realizing how many ways autism has been a blessing and not a curse. I regret trying to make my plan for your life YOUR plan and causing you anxiety and stress in the process. Please forgive me.
Baby, I am proud of you. You have persevered through so many trials, disappointments, and setbacks. Through everything, you have maintained your faith in God, a positive life outlook, and a forgiving heart I find myself envious of. I don’t know what the future holds for you, but I do know this: you have a village that loves you unconditionally and will always love and support you. We love you beyond words.