19 years ago today was when the best thing that has ever happened to me occurred. River was born a tiny little perfect person. Pink fingers and white hair and blue eyes that everyone said would change when he got older. It took us years to figure each other out. Me the stupid 17 year old kid who definitely didn’t have shit together and the baby that never liked much. We couldn’t figure out breastfeeding, I couldn’t figure out how to do it all. His tummy seemed to always hurt, we still haven’t figured that part out. He cried and cried and cried, unless I popped in some social distortion and bopped around the apartment. He changed every moment of my life and every fiber of my being.
River has fought tooth and nail for most of his life. From the horrible “colic” he had as a baby, to the inability to connect with other little kids at 3, the getting constantly penalized in kindergarten for questioning the teacher, getting kicked out of first grade, 2nd grade and third grade for elopement and shutting down. Arrested at 8 because of abusive teachers aides who shouldn’t have had a job with children. It just kept going and going and he just got so lost under autisms weight.
Removing him from school and teaching him at home was a break through, though I could never have gotten my son back without the help of the amazing people at The Childrens Guild Easter Seals therapy program in Salem, OR. I hear they had to close their doors due to budget cuts, which breaks my heart. The program of intensive therapy for River, Me and us as a family unit was what saved us. Teaching me how to help him, teaching him how to help him. All the tools we needed were delivered. No, it was not a cure. We know he will always struggle, but the tools they taught him gave him the ability to live in a world that is unaccepting, unforgiving and gosh darn loud.
I was told once that I should institutionalize my son. That his aggression would make him a danger to everyone around him. That he would never function as an adult, they said he had no chance of finishing school. They were wrong on all counts. River completed his last final of the year today. He is graduating High School on Thursday.
River still battles his autism. He still takes things rather literally and still has tics that appear when he is stressed. He is more sensitive than other kids at times and he can rarely fly off that handle when pushed. But now, he has the tools to confront those stressors. he knows how to slow his breathing and calm his bodies. He knows that home is safe and always will be.
River volunteers every week at the local food bank and thrift store. The experience he has gained from working there has helped him grow immensely. He goes in and works like it is a normal job. They understand him and his needs and they support and encourage him. He is corrected firmly and kindly when he struggles. He has learned how to handle the stress of a job, which gets him pretty close to other 19 year olds maybe even past some in my opinion.
Today, my baby boy. The child who saved my life, turns 19. He may not be ready to leave home and take on the world, but he proved all those jerks wrong. And that is pretty dang cool in my opinion.
So thank you to Easter Seals. Thank you to the amazing teachers at LRA. Thank you to The Action Center. And thank you to every single person who has impacted our lives. We love you and we thank you.
Now if you are in the area and know us, come party at the park with us Saturday. This boy deserves to be celebrated.