Our first child Dean Christopher was born on August 30, 1994 after many exciting weeks of waiting, planning and anticipating. He arrived two weeks late and came by emergency C-section. He was beautiful and had a head of curly hair. Since we were new parents, we had no previous experience with babies and so we just blissfully enjoyed and got to know our new son.
Dean was a sweet, easygoing baby. He ate and slept on a schedule, and was hardly ever fussy or cried. He just did everything I wanted him to. My husband Chris and I were convinced that this parenting thing was a breeze.
One day my dad was holding Dean and he asked me why Dean never made eye contact with anyone. Of course I did not know. I thought it was a strange question and I just filed it in the back of my mind. But then my mother-in-law asked my husband Chris something similar. We became alarmed and went to the doctor. By this time Dean was 5 or 6 months old and was having trouble sitting up. He seemed floppy and unsure of his body. And so the medical appointments began. Over time Dean was able to meet most of his developmental milestones, but by about a year late. Pointing, sitting up, crawling, walking, talking were all very late. When he was two, we enrolled him in an infant/toddler program through the County of Santa Clara and that is where we first heard the word “autism.” Our world changed forever.
Hearing that our sweet son Dean was autistic was like being trapped underwater without a breathing apparatus. We felt choked for air. We were terrified. All of a sudden the trajectory looked different. All our dreams and plans for him would have to be retooled. How will we navigate this new course and will he be OK? Will we be OK?
We were clear on one thing. We knew we must intervene and educate ourselves on how to best help our son grow and develop in his own unique way. Most importantly, we wanted our son to be happy and to enjoy his days. He did, and he does still. We always have plenty of fun together as a family – which has been a saving grace for us.
Dean is a very fun guy. He is sweet and affectionate, and exceedingly relaxed and flexible. These qualities have allowed us the latitude as a family to do many things together – amusement parks, the beach, shopping, dinner, staying in hotels, etc. We are thankful for Dean’s flexibility and have come to realize that not every family of an autistic child enjoys this gift. Dean is also athletic. He enjoys swimming, basketball, long walks, weight training, Frisbee, and bowling above all! He is currently on a summer bowling league with his dad and his sister every week this summer. Dean is a “serious” bowling contender and enjoys every minute of it. Dean is without guile of any kind, and is very polite. He loves chips, popcorn, and ice cream. Don’t try to beat him at Wii bowling because you will not be able to!!!
Having Dean as my son has taught me many things. He has made me exceedingly patient. He has taught me tolerance. He has helped distill for me what it means to be a parent. After much thought and many years I realized that it does not matter if your child is typical or atypical. Everyone’s journey is worthwhile and important and sometimes growth and development happens on a completely different path and that’s OK.
It has taken Chris and I many years to become comfortable with Dean’s autism. This is because we have always worried about what his adult future may look like. What will happen to Dean when we are in heaven and not here to keep him safe and comfortable? We do not want his little sister, Natalie, to be solely responsible for his needs since she will one day have a life and family of her own. This is why a residence like Sunflower Hill is so vitally important to so many families such as ours here in the Tri Valley.
by Lisa Rosare