My youngest daughter is a stunningly beautiful five-year-old with bronze hair and hazel-green eyes. She is the fire and the clown in our family, always moving at full velocity and stopping only to sleep, if then. She fears nothing and examines everything; we joke that when she grows up, she will be a doctor by day and a dirt bike star by night. Everything about this girl is 100%.
She also happens to struggle with an autism-related delay known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). She was diagnosed with it when she was four, though I started seeing the signs a year prior. I can’t tell you now what particular behaviors triggered my suspicions. I just had an overwhelming sense that she was trapped in her own head. I looked in her eyes and knew that she was in distress, but she couldn’t tell me why.
Before she was diagnosed, I struggled with whom or what to blame for her difficulties: myself for working outside of the home, or her father for leaving when she was eight months old, or the television for mind-numbing children’s programming, or even her for being stubborn. Afterwards, the blame game didn’t stop. The new culprits became genetics, vaccines, environmental toxins, and God Himself for not swooping in to save the day for us all.
Then a major intervention occurred in Jaden’s life, and that was oral surgery. Her inability to communicate and extreme tolerance for pain landed her in the hospital with a severely abscessed tooth, several caps, and five teeth that had to be pulled entirely. Her doctors were great. The procedure only took about two hours, and she recovered rapidly. We were surrounded by good people who understood and never indicated to Jaden that there was anything different about her, and so she was able to continue growing and thriving in her brave little way.
Nonetheless, that day brought to a head for me all of the natural fear and insecurity that come with having a special needs child. You see, PDD-NOS – along with all autism-related disorders – is a diagnosis with no cure. There are many agencies who provide therapy, but the overwhelming message is that you are cursed for life. Watching Jaden that day go from prepping in little toddler-sized scrubs to screaming in post-op with an anesthesia hangover and blood dripping from her mouth, I was plunged into a dark struggle with both inner and outer demons. I vacillated with nauseating swiftness between beating myself up for not somehow preventing it all and crying out to God, “Why have You forsaken us?!” It was a dark day.
In the year and a half that have passed since then, our family has journeyed far together. Jaden is on a regimen of holistic treatments and behavioral therapy to help her cleanse, cope, and overcome the physical inhibitors of her developmental progress. Still, the challenges often outnumber the victories, and hope for us has been something chosen but unseen. I have felt strongly in my heart that Jaden will ultimately recover fully and then go on to help others, yet that feeling has been solely an act of faith in the face of much opposition.
Up until about a week ago, that is.
One beautiful, sunny day so characteristic of the abundant spring we have enjoyed this year, Jaden’s bottom right adult incisor peeked through her gums. Her sisters and I stopped mid-stride when we noticed and time stood still. In the silence that followed, there was all the awe of an Easter sunrise: It was real. She was healing. Where there had been death and decay, a healthy new life and promise for the future were emerging. I know it may sound melodramatic and teeth are “born” every day, but it was still a miracle of the highest possible order for us.
Here’s the most important thing, and its value cannot be underestimated: I did nothing to bring this about. That tooth was there all along and even though I couldn’t see it, it was just waiting to come at its appointed time. All I did was believe in it, and God orchestrated the rest.
This is a cherished moment for me, and for the entire family. It means that all of these troubles really will pass, and we can get through them. It means there is an end to the suffering and the awkwardness and the alienation, and that what we see is not always the whole truth. It means that no matter how lonely we are, we are never truly alone.
And – just for the record – neither are you.