As you read this blog and the next you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with autism? While it doesn’t answer many questions, it is more about what and how I learned from these experiences. I knew relatively nothing about parenting a child with autism, especially in the beginning when you lack experience and firsthand knowledge. The crash course I went through in some very stressful situations taught me that I was capable, fearless and up for anything thrown in my direction-even autism. To trust my instincts, have faith and never give up or give in. With those in place, I was up for the challenges autism would present. The most important being supporting Jonathan to achieve a happy, productive and fulfilling life.
So following my health scare and surgery, I felt well and ready to take on a Sunday outing with Cassie and Jonathan. It was a beautiful Wisconsin fall afternoon. The sun was shining, trees were beginning to turn gorgeous colors and there was a crisp edge to the afternoon breeze. What better time for an outdoor adventure, so we headed to a local park.
Jonathan and his sister both loved to swing and slide so the playground I had spied on my way home one day was ideal. Small enough that if Jonathan took off running, which he was inclined to do, I could catch or at least corral him. Not close to a busy street and actually quiet. In fact, when we arrived, we were the only ones there for the better part of the afternoon. The sun started to give way to clouds so we packed up and headed for home. I made dinner, gave the kids a bath and then decided to put them to bed early so I could enjoy some peaceful alone time. I must have missed the rumble of thunder in the distance signifying that my plans were about to change.
As my daughter was in the family room in her favorite footie PJ’s and Jonathan was lining up his cars, I turned to see Cassie trip head first into the corner edge of the wall. I tried to grab her in time but I was too late.
I heard the sickening thud as her head struck, followed by her screams. She had a deep gash in her forehead and it was bleeding badly. I grabbed a towel and held it to her forehead, then while holding her called the ER at UW hospital. Thankfully someone answered and I quickly gave them the run down on the situation and my ETA. I also told them I was bringing my son, who had autism. Given that Jonathan was a runner, I grabbed Cassie’s umbrella stroller and tossed it in the back of the van. I had tied the towel to her head as I was running out of hands, and proceeded to load her in first, followed by Jonathan. Despite her crying, Jonathan was managing quite well and we made it to the ER.
With Cassie still in the van I then attempted to get Jonathan in the umbrella stroller so he wouldn’t run away. He was not happy and began fighting his way out of it. I quickly grabbed Cassie and the stroller and literally ran through the doors. I’m sure we were quite the sight!
Jonathan began to escalate, so as I tended to him, the nurse and ER doctor took my daughter. I could hear her screaming over Jonathan’s and it felt like I was being torn in half, emotionally. My 15 month old needed me and Jonathan as well. But it was just me, myself and I, as my husband was in Omaha, as often was the case when emergencies occurred. Then, this wonderful nurse stopped to say she would stay with Jonathan. I looked a bit stunned and stammered “He has autism”. But she just smiled and told me it would be fine as my daughter needed me.
Things became more stressful once inside when I learned the gash on Cassie’s forehead was in a place where they could not immobilize her head in order to suture the wound. Therefore, I would need to hold her still while they did. Upon seeing the laceration under the bright lights and given that it was on her face, I insisted on a plastic surgeon. While initially less than pleased, the ER doctor obliged as I think they realized I was stretched pretty thin and better for all if they appeased me. Ironically, he ended up thanking me later, as he learned a new technique while observing the procedure. The plastic surgeon arrived and while holding Cassie still, I sang to her as he began.
Then I heard Jonathan outside the door. He had stopped vocalizing but when he heard Cassie’s screams as they injected the novacaine, he yelled “No hurt baby” several times. Given the fact that he had very limited verbal ability, articulating his stress about the situation was a significant achievement. His concern for his sister needed to be addressed. I asked the other nurse if they could bring him in. He was still in the stroller and had stopped trying to escape. As they brought him in, I explained what was happening and he calmed. In fact, we all did.
Three hours after Cassie took the fall, we were back home. I had tried to reach my husband several times but was unsuccessful. He had taken Samantha to friends of ours for a day on the lake. When he did call to see what was up, you can imagine he got an earful! No doubt he was thankful to be in another state.
Amidst all the chaos and stress of the situation, we pulled through and came out stronger on the other end. A test of strength, faith and perseverance on this day and for those to come. Autism would contribute to more tests and challenges and I would be prepared for the test of time with autism.
In fact, the next test was ready and waiting.