To the Mom whose heart I broke, I want to say thank you and I’m so very sorry. Thank you for continuing to make me better at who I am and what I do; you teach me compassion, strength, and perseverance. I am so sorry that I had to share words you hoped not to hear and that those words shed light into an area that you hoped wasn’t true. I have not walked in your shoes but I’ve watched you walk parts of this journey. First I will tell you that you are strong, then I will tell you that you are brave, and finally I will tell you that you should be proud.
Becoming a mother has been an incredible gift for my career. I am an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher (ECSE). As an ECSE I specialize in working with families and their children, birth through age 5 that are experiencing developmental delays or diagnosed disability. As a mother I can now understand the incredible passion and love that mamas and papas feel towards their children. For years I observed this love as an outsider. As a mother I now know the tremendous mama bear instinct to protect my child and the daily quota of worry I must fill. The worries of something happening to my son or the thought of him experiencing significant developmental delays can be crippling at times. Sometimes I blame it on knowing to much, but I am learning to let go and leave what I know at work in order to come home to be just his mom, not his mom and evaluator and special education teacher.
Now as I think about you mamas whose hearts I have broken, I cannot think of you without also thinking of my son and the thoughts “What if this was me?”, “What if I was the mama asking through tears, ‘Do you think my baby has Autism?’” I have spent a portion of my career as an evaluator on a local school district Child Find team. Of all the facets I have worked as an ECSE, that has been my most favorite and most heart wrenching. As a member of a transdisciplinary Child Find team it was our job to evaluate children, birth through age 5 in order to determine delay or disability and therefore determine eligibility for Early Intervention services or school based special education services depending on a child’s age.
The mom whose heart I broke has come in many forms and walks of life. Most often our interactions lasted no longer than 2 hours but on so many occasions those hours started the course change of your life. Sometimes you already knew, suspected, and googled late into the night. You came looking for someone to confirm that they see what you see and you came looking for next steps. Our tissues were waiting for you; because knowing and suspecting didn’t take the blow away. And to the other mom, the one who was blindsided, we tried so hard to be gentle but regardless, hearing that your precious baby exhibits characteristics consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be deafening. It wasn’t what you even remotely thought you would hear on that day. As a professional and as a mother myself, there was no harder thing, to deliver information that will cause you to leave our building with a completely different state of mind than when you entered, the type of news that causes your world to feel like it is spiraling but for the rest of the world to continue on and function in its status quo.
The greatest privilege I have in my career is the opportunity to walk parts of the journey with the mothers, families, and children I work with and serve. Sometimes we have walked journeys that lasted just a few hours and sometimes our journeys have been for years. Getting to work with you and your child fuels my passion and I truly love it. But I also remember so often where it started, the questions asked and the answers sought as you began your journey as a mom of a child with Autism.
If you have concerns about your child’s development and they are under the age of 5, I would strongly encourage you to seek out your local Child Find team for a free developmental screening or evaluation. Child Find teams do not diagnose Autism but may highlight specific characteristics and make recommendations based on their evaluations and professional judgment. For children who are aged birth up to 3 years old, contact your local Community Center Board (CCB) for a referral. If your child is aged 3-5, contact your local school district’s Child Find department. Here are some quick links to some of the local CCBs and they counties they serve.
Developmental Pathways: Arapahoe and Douglas Counties
Rocky Mountain Human Services: Denver County
Imagine: Boulder and Broomfield Counties
North Metro Community Services: Adams County
Developmental Disabilities Resource Center: Jefferson County
For more information about Early Intervention and CCB’s not listed, please refer to Early Intervention Colorado.