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The Yellow Brick Road

“Your child has autism.”

These four words can change your life in ways that you can scarce imagine when you first hear them. It’s one thing to think them and it’s another to hear another human being say it. A mother or father or caregiver may think these words when looking at their child—but these thoughts are hidden away in the darkest parts of their heart hoping beyond hope that they will never actually be spoken—that they will remain hidden in the closet. When spoken out loud and openly for the first time you realize all your fears are true. You realize the life you thought you had no longer exists. It’s a moment of fear for the future. It’s a moment of desperation and sorrow. Once spoken aloud, you realize there is no looking back.

The first steps after these words feel as if you’re walking underwater—slow, unsure and under pressure. It’s almost as if the clock starts ticking down as soon as those words are uttered. The doomsday scenario in the disaster movie on the Sci-Fi channel comes to mind. You want to do something but you don’t know what. Hitting something seems like a good idea. Crying your eyes blind seems like a good idea. Blame—for yourself and everyone else feels like a good way to start. It’s a tornado of emotions and thoughts that swirls through your mind and heart till you feel like Dorothy landing in a strange world surrounded by strange people. Those you thought you knew and loved are all different and some are gone. Friends you thought you had will drift away as your thoughts and actions are consumed with all things autism. The family that was your rock now slips away as they can’t understand the child, the disorder, or you. Like Dorothy, you walk the yellow brick road to the Emerald City but unlike Dorothy you often walk alone—at least in the beginning.

The words ignite a fire in your soul though and from within you hear the call to arms, that siren song buried deep in the instincts of motherhood and fatherhood. Only, this time around, your instincts seem all wrong. What works for other children doesn’t work for this one. The yellow brick road gets twisted and confused and the Emerald City is never further away than at that moment. You spend all your waking time either with the child or looking up information about autism. You become an expert ‘Googler’ and have read every article and snippet on the web. You collect books about autism like a buyer for Barnes and Noble. Every magazine with the headline ‘Autism’ on the front page graces your coffee table. You DVR every show having anything remotely to do with autism. You live, eat, and breathe all things autism. Your every word becomes centered around it, your every thought hinges on it. You know the clock is ticking and you have thrown yourself into trying to stop the second hand from moving.

Then comes the epiphany. The moment of amazement and wonder. The first time you connect with your child. The first time you get a glimpse of his soul. The first time you actually understand his world and his life. The light bulb goes off and things start to fall into place. You realize that you walk with others on that yellow brick road. You meet other families, therapists, and educators who become your lifeline. Therapy starts to make sense, goals get achieved, and the clock seems to slow down. The rush and urgency seems to decelerate and in that moment life makes sense again. Purpose and understanding seep into your life in ways that others can only wonder at. The direction your life has gone in will amaze you. You’ll look back to that life before the yellow brick road and you’ll see how much richer your life is now than it ever has been. You begin to thank the powers that be for putting this child in your life.

We all walk down the yellow brick road. At times we walk it alone and other times we it walk together. You meet the Scarecrow—only this time you seek to understand the brain rather than to have one. You meet the Tin Man—only this time you learn that your heart grows with each step you take. You meet the Cowardly Lion—only this time you learn to have courage enough for the both you and your child. The yellow brick road takes you to a life once feared and later understood. On the yellow brick road you find confidence and determination. You find purpose and a will to do more. You find your faith and hope restored.