By Teresa Conrick
I am no wimp. I have had my share of hard days but have learned to survive, to take it on the chin. I am no fan of the lemons into lemonade propaganda, but instead investigate those damn lemons and find out if they could help or hurt. So, it was with great surprise that I found myself out in the cold, Chicago morning, clutching Megan's hand as we caught a glimpse of her little, yellow, special ed bus gone.
Why, you might ask? Let me rewind to the start of this event.
I am a divorced parent. What that means is that I am among an increasing group who are finding themselves alone or with shared duties in caring for their autistic children. Not the rosy "I do" we had planned but a tough and courageous call to duty. As a result, I split responsibilities, but let's be realistic as it is hardly ever an even split. The morning bus ritual is solely mine as Megan lives with me. It is a marathon of strength and determination to get a nonverbal teenager dressed and ready every day. It is not always pleasant and is as stressful as you can imagine. The stress has to do with time.
Time is not kind to a single parent who needs to get Megan on the bus, get Mary up and drive her to her school, and get myself to my school where I teach an alternative high school program.
This on top of researching bacteria and its ongoing role in Megan's "autism" as well as moderating yet another Yahoo group.
But single tough redhead was not prepared for the cold reality that not everyone cares. Maybe some of you who follow the ND creed don't care and if so, skip leaving a comment. I found out not everyone cares by calling the bus company to try and decipher what had happened. A new manager came on the phone to tell me that the bus left. No sh** Sherlock. I smelled the fumes. What she added as I fought back the tears is "That we cannot wait and had to move on".. .as I stammered, "You couldn't call?" And then the hammer, "We expect you to be ready!"
Expect..expect? Did she just land her UFO last night? There is no expecting in our autism lives. I keep expecting to see accurate studies being discussed in newspapers, journals, the nightly news; true, justified epidemic numbers being taken seriously; research that parallels what ails our kids with millions of dollars available; CDC and AAP investigating why kids like Megan are so sick and how to truly help.
Instead the flash of yellow became synonymous to yet another departure, abandonment, refusal, and desertion. Now I was angry. No one was going to tell me that my daughter was not worth waiting for, that we would be left behind. I told this new manager that I wanted her to explain to Megan why she let the bus leave without her, that Megan did not deserve this unkind act. She instead paused and quietly told me that they would have the bus return. Concern about her job or remorse in a bad decision? I'll never know but it is our pursuit of truth and justice that will color the landscape for our kids and their future. Buckle your seat belts: it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Teresa Conrick lives in suburban Chicago with her two redheads, Megan 14, severely affected, and her 12 year-old neurotypical sister, Mary. When she is not teaching, she is researching bacteria, metals and biofilm development in autism with Dr. Anju Usman. She also moderates a yahoo group called The New Autism Paradigm.