Welcome to Holland

I am the mother of an Autistic child. He is four years old and after a VERY rough start, including almost losing him at birth, and 3 weeks in the NICU, we are finally starting to understand him.

Two years ago, I bought a book titled, “Parenting Your Asperger Child, Individualized Solutions for Teaching Your Child Practical Skills”.  I tried reading it and thought I could understand it but I gave up after a while. I think Marshall was too young and things just weren’t happening like the examples described in the book. I find it so hard to find time to read. I have so many things that I want to read and need to read but my days get so busy that I fall asleep before I get the chance to read. Tonight, my husband and I read the first chapter. As we read, we discussed things concerning Marshall’s behavior compared to the examples we’ve read. It was one of those, “Ah HA!” moments where everything fits into place. We understand why NONE of our behavior modification strategies have worked. We’ve tried rewards and consequence jars, time outs, spanking, yelling (I don’t like to admit it but yes, we’ve yelled.), stuff like that. NOTHING worked!! You can send him to his room ALL DAY and he still won’t change his behaviors. Time out can’t modify the behavior if you can’t understand WHY he does the things he does. Parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome is very different. It reminds me of something I read by Emily Perl Kingsley. It is titled, Welcome to Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

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 guide books 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 guide books. 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 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.

Having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is not easy.  It’s not ever going to be. I have to be the one to fight for the help I know this child needs. Who better to do that than the one who has the most invested in the child; the one who loves him the most… his parents. We will never give up on him. We will help him learn and grow. Then one day, he can be a happy, successful man, with a family of his own.  He will always know that he is loved NO MATTER WHAT.

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5 comments to Welcome to Holland

  • Thanks for sharing this! It offers a perspective on challenging children that I had never considered. I am grateful that this is not something I have been called upon to deal with so far. I have profound respect for parents who are in difficult to impossible situations!

  • Dean

    A very nice analogy. I think it’s important that parents of special needs kids acknowlege rather than deny a feeling of loss. As the analogy shows, there are still many blessings to be appreciated. My wife and I were concerned for years that we might never have kids. But we’ve been blessed with one special needs child and another which is not special-needs. In contrast with the many years we wished we had a child but had none, our circumstances are very good. You might say, a trip to Holland is better than wishing for a trip but going nowhere.

    Take heart, NevillesLostToad. You’re doing great.

  • What a great analogy. I appreciate this post and can totally relate. My son is 8 and has aspergers. It’s not information that we offer freely for fear of labeling, but it is something we have to deal with every day of our lives. It is not easy and I can’t say that I’ll ever truly understand the way he thinks, but it helps knowing that he acts the way he does because he does think! I’m so grateful for those tender moments when I can get just a glimpse into his mind. Although life is harder with his special needs, I’m so glad that I’m his mother because no one could love him more!!!

  • Autism has been in the headlines for quite some time now and it’s often the topic of heated debates but…story like yours is better than any debate or book, for sure!
    A very nice analogy. Thanks for share your experiences.

  • DeeDee

    I love Welcome to Holland, it was given to me when they initially mentioned that our son should be evaluated and I’ve taken it out many times to give me strength and hope. My son brings me such joy and he amazes me daily at all that he’s learned that we so often take for granted. Our eldest son was diagnosed after numerous evals at 5 years old, he is now 7 and is doing well although we definitely have to work at things daily… his language has improved now we just have to work on the content & social skills are a daily struggle. As our youngest is about to turn 4 I marvel at them as they grow together, embracing the differences and celebrating each of their development in their own ways. Thank you for sharing your story… and Welcome to Holland… Take Care & enjoy the JOY of the hope you have for your son.

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