Thursday, December 15, 2005

My Special Child

My Special Child
Anne Lear

I've known that Lazarus was a bit different since he was just over a year old and still wasn't crawling, or even trying to. In one ear I had people sounding alarms—"He's not CRAW-LING YET?!? Well, that's because you hold him too much. Or else something's WRONG with him!"— and in the other ear those with kinder intentions (or perhaps just more tact) were telling me that kids develop at their own rate and just don't worry about it.

But I worried. A bit, then more as Lazarus finally mastered crawling around 14 months but didn't try to stand up and walk anytime soon after that.

He turned 18 months and wasn't even close to walking, and that was the line for me—the development charts say that's the cutoff, see your pediatrician, and by then I'd noticed other things as well. He spoke no recognizable words and made few attempts to speak or to imitate my words. He couldn't seem to hold onto things like a spoon or a cup or a crayon. So I talked to our doctor, got a referral for early intervention, and started him on occupational and speech therapy. He took his first solo steps just a few weeks later. I'm thrilled to hear him speak his thoughts and express his feelings (even if he's telling me "I don’t NEED a nap, Mama!"). He's always been able to "tell" me how he's feeling with his gestures and facial expressions; now we're connecting verbally, too. He adores Roene, who has visited weekly for nearly two years, helping him (and me) immensely with everything from mastering puzzles to balancing on one foot. She says he’s doing great and might not need any more special services when he starts kindergarten this fall.

Still, I see him with other kids around his age and I see that he's different. He trips and falls a lot. He can climb, but he doesn't seem to know how to jump—he makes a mighty effort and usually ends up taking a big clumsy step, and he's so dang proud I can't help but clap. He sort of runs (especially when I'm trying to catch him around naptime), but not freely like other kids. And his words—my mom says it's like he's speaking a foreign language, always having to translate his thoughts into our language. He speaks haltingly, with feeling but not with ease, having to lay out his sentences in careful blocks and backtracking as he realizes he missed a step.

I wouldn’t change a thing about him, though. He has always been an absolute delight, very happy and easy-going, quick to smile at anybody whose eye he could catch. I don't worry that he's not perfect, that he won't "achieve," that he won't "fit in"—okay, I do worry about that last one, because I know people can be merciless to someone who doesn't or can't march in lockstep with the pack. Lazarus is just over three, and about all he's known so far has been the love and praise of family and friends. Like any (decent) parent, I want to shield my sweet child from hurt, rejection, derision...and I know I can't, not forever. I guess it scares me to think about sending out into the world a child who already is a bit out of step. An easy target.

But if I have to let him venture out into the world, and I know I do, I desperately want to make things easier for him. I guess I start—and I think (hope) I've been doing this for three years now—by loving him, purely and completely. God, I can't help but do that. Because he is perfect. He's my beautiful, sweet child. As much as I sometimes dread loosing him into the wide wild world, I can't deny him the wondrous, scary, human privilege of living in it.

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