Guest Post by Lisa Metlak
We were young when we had Christopher, who we call C.J. He was our first child, so we were not well-versed in when he was supposed to be hitting what marks. Physically, he was a beautiful, healthy baby boy. However, mentally, he never quite made the charts for his age. He didn’t start balancing or making the “right” sounds until well past the time he should have.
His pediatrician noticed very early that C.J. wasn’t developing as expected. He signed us up with a program called “Early Intervention.” It was a county-sponsored program that sent C.J. to school at the young age of two. The program was designed to bring underdeveloped children like C.J. up to par with the rest of the kids his age so he would be ready for kindergarten at five. Unfortunately, the scope of C.J.’s condition was unknown to all of us.
My mother-in-law worked as a special education teacher for thirty plus years. During that time, she watched the development of different diagnoses in school-age children. It was she who suggested that her first grandchild had autism. The term autism was completely foreign to me, and my husband only had some knowledge of it. When I encounter people who ask me what autism is, I ask them “do you remember the movie Rainman?”
But, C.J. isn’t entirely like the character in Rainman. He doesn’t have a penchant for numbers, nor is he a musical savant or a computer whiz. He does have loud vocal outbursts, and he is constantly moving around. (We call it “prancing.”) He was potty trained at seven, which was a miracle in our eyes. Even at twenty years old, he speaks at a two-year old level . . . when he speaks. He will never live on his own – a reality that hurts me and my husband very much.
What C.J. does have is an amazing personality. There is not one person who has spent time with C.J. who doesn’t wind up adoring him. His laugh is infectious, and he loves to laugh a lot. He hugs, he smiles and he understands more than he lets people know. By being alive, he encouraged two young adults to get their life together and develop their family. I don’t know where my life – my family – would be without him.