Marsha mug shotBy Marsha Quinn

 Autism is my reality!

I am the parent of two boys who are different in every way, but both fall into the infamous “autism spectrum.”

People often ask me, “How do you do it?” My honest answer is, “I know nothing different.”

Cole, a vivacious 11-year-old boy, plays sports, has many friends, is extremely bright but has social anxiety issues. His older brother, Camden, on the other hand, is 14 and is very affected by this disorder. Cam is non-verbal and will need life-long support and systems throughout his life.

My experience with parenting differs from that of many of my family and friends, but I try to share my experiences with others in the community and through my work at Encompass as the community resource manager for our pediatric therapy programs.

“Welcome to Holland” is an essay well-known by mothers like me who have children with special needs. It is a great way to unveil the journey of diagnosis, acceptance and understanding. It also yields the insight that my life might be starkly different than I anticipated yet as rewarding and meaningful as that of any “typical” parent.

Welcome to Holland

 I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this …

 When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

 After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags, and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

 “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

 But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland, and there you must stay.

 The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

 So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

 It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around … and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills … and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

 But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy … and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

 And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away … because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

 But … if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.

Marsha Quinn will be presenting “Red Flags in Child Development” workshop on Thursday, June 5, 2014 from 5:30-7pm at Virginia Mason, Issaquah clinic.  Click here to register.

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