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Mother Doesn't Always Know Best

Are you underestimating the abilities of your child?

Where does the time go? It seemed like just yesterday I was worried about my "special" pre-schooler's poor pencil grip. Now I have to get a grip on something much more daunting - she's two years away from being an adult.

That's two short years from ...

...graduating high school.

...being old enough to vote.

...not being able to go to her pediatrician.

... being tried as an adult should she commit a crime.

And even more frightening, two years away from leaving me.

I should be ecstatic we've come this far. When she was younger and first diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, I feared we'd never even get to this point.

I thought she might drop out of school, or even worse, end her life to stop the pain of constantly being bullied, teased, and misunderstood. Truthfully, I wasn't even sure I would have the strength to get out of the depression that came from watching my sweet little girl struggle with everything -- finding someone to play with at recess, keeping up academically, being constantly reminded that she was "weird" and not like the other kids.

During those painful elementary years, I couldn't help but lie awake at night questioning her future.

Will she have friends?

Graduate high school?

Get a job?

Live without me?

Get married?

Have children?

But the resilience and determination she's shown over the years have me now believing that these are all distinct possibilities. At 16, she's even talking about getting a job, albeit on her own terms.

"Mom, can you check this job application I filled out?"

"Sure Honey, but it says here that you are available 6 hours a week, including 12:30 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays. That can't be right."

"Good point, Mom. You better change it to 5 hours. I don't want to overdo it."

She's also talking about learning to drive a car, something that's very difficult given her visual/spatial difficulties. At least that's what her vision therapist told me years ago. "Mrs. Gallagher, your daughter is lost in space. It takes all her concentration to just walk through a doorway."

Knowing this, I really haven't encouraged her to pursue driving. She, however, is ready to give it a spin.

"Mom, can you sign me up for Driver's Ed?"

"Well, Honey, I'm not sure you're ready to drive with your vision struggles."

"Mom, how will I know if I don't try it?"

It seemed like just yesterday we were having a similar conversation after she learned how to ride her bike, something they told me would be nearly impossible for her to do.

"Mom, can I ride my bike around the big block with the other kids in the neighborhood?"

"Oh Katie. I'm not sure. You just learned how to ride your bike."

"Mom please! All the other kids are doing it! I know I can do it."

She was right. She did do it - perfectly. I saw it with my on two eyes, much to her dismay.

"Mother, why did you have to follow us in the car? The kids think you're creepy."

I'm ashamed to say, I've underestimated my daughter much of her young life. The gravity of this hit me recently, when my beloved mother passed away. Given Katie's close relationship with my mother, I was sure Katie would be devastated and unable to function. But once again, my daughter surprised me. She's not only managed her own sadness and grief, but also stood by me to help me manage mine.

"I know you miss your mother, Mom. I miss her too. But I know she'll always be with us. Don't be sad Mom."

How could I have underestimated this child?

Maybe it was all those "experts" who diagnosed her and told me everything that was wrong with her. Or the authors of those books on Asperger's that had me believing she lacked empathy. They said she could be promiscuous and susceptible to alcohol and drugs, just to try and fit in. Yet, it's her strong values that make her stand out. "Mom, I want to be popular so bad, but I don't want to do drugs, drink, or sleep with boys just to fit in. That's just not me."

When she was in the public school, they told me that I should be happy if she gets a job and lives a productive life.

But, as I now know, she's capable of so much more.

Like attending college. Last week, she spent her first night at a college - my alma matter -- visiting her older cousin, Jennifer. She hung out in the dorm with Jenn's friends, chowed on pizza at the dining hall, and studied in the library beside her cousin. She was doing things I used to do -- things I thought she'd never get to experience. When I went to pick her up, she looked up at me with bright blue eyes and said, "Mom! I love your college. I can't wait to find my college."

I know if she puts her mind to it, she will get there. Yes, In two short years, she'll be ready to start her life on her own.

Of course the bigger question is:

In two years, will I be ready?"

About the Author
Gina Gallagher

Gina Gallagher is an imperfect award-winning freelance copywriter, speaker and co-author of Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children.

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