Major accidents, traumatic events, and other unexpected life-changing incidents can bring people together. Depending on the severity of an incident, like the September 11th attacks, an entire county can quickly pull themselves together. While drawing on each other’s strengths, people can get through bad news, drastic events, and tough circumstances. Incidents that happen on a grand scale bring lots of people together. So can other kinds of events.
A few weeks ago, I learned that a former co-worker’s wife was in rehab. The rehab wasn’t to overcome an addiction. It was set up so the wife could regain skills she lost after suffering traumatic injuries stemming from a terrible car crash. That crash, which happened about 8 weeks ago, left the woman paralyzed and on a ventilator. Life as she knew it was over.
Losing the ability to move her arms, legs, and unable to breathe on her own, things looked very, very grim. I've been peeking in on a Facebook page that's been set up to keep friends and their community aware of what happened and to rally support for the family. The intense therapy this woman needs is crucial, but so is the ongoing support she and her husband will need.
With a support network in place, this couple has the chance to begin to pick up where life as they knew it changed forever. In fact, in the past 8 weeks, positive changes have taken place.
With proper treatment, with a hell of a lot of determination, and with assistance from family, friends, and complete strangers, things have picked up. Things are looking more and more hopeful as each week goes by.
She can breathe on her own.
She can move her arm.
She is gaining control of her hands.
She can wiggle her toes.
She is sitting up.
She can move both legs.
She's actually walking. Going one very small step at a time and with a great amount of assistance, she is walking! She's made a promise to her family, friends (and to complete strangers like me who are peeking in) that she will walk on her own again. I have no doubt that she will.
When our kids got sick, some families were offered immediate support like this woman has received. Sadly, other families didn’t get any support. In fact, they got worse. They were ignored, mocked, or completely cut off. Some families faced more stressors post diagnosis from their loved ones than from the diagnosis itself. Thankfully, my son and our family have a great amount of support. Now, not everyone friend or relative is on board with how Ronan's diagnosis came about and they still refuse to accept the vaccine-autism connection, but Ronan is 100% loved and cherished by those closest to us.
I wish that more families were offered emotional support like we’ve received. My heart goes out to those who are left alone. Who are mocked. Who are told to spank the autism out of their kid. Who are told to stop reading junk science, to stop listening to celebrities, and to just get the damn vaccines. At what point does any of that have a place in caring for a child on the autism spectrum? The short answer is never. None of those reactions or responses will help a family care for a child on the spectrum.
Instead of being believed and supported, families are blamed for the spread of disease. They are belittled and are hurt by those whom they love. Understanding that vaccines can and do play a role in an autism diagnosis could bring family and friends closer together. But it tends to push people away. Being pushed away can cause unnecessary stress and lead to painful bouts of despair.
As much as I’m ready to share what we saw happen to Ronan post vaccination, I’ve learned that some conversations with some people are better left unsaid. I’ve learned a few other things along the way, too. I’ve learned a few things about myself.
I’ve learned that I am stronger than I think I am. I’ve learned to trust my gut instinct. I’ve also learned whom I can trust and whom I need to let walk away. Fortunately, while learning more about myself and what Ronan needs, I’ve gained a great amount of determination. Determination, as well as gaining a set of friends that I never want to be without, has given me hope during times when I thought there was no more hope to be found.
Certainly, my former co-worker has felt some sort of hope too. He’s probably also discovered that he has more determination than he realized. That determination and the influx of support he and his wife have received are surely a reminder that life will not be as bleak as it felt 8 weeks ago. As an outsider looking in, I am comforted to know that despite the dismal odds the woman faced, in just a few short weeks their local support group has grown by leaps and bounds.
Yes, life for my friend and his wife will be different, and will be quite difficult at times, too, but his wife will recover. She’ll recover not just because she got proper treatment and support soon after the car crash, but because she is determined to recover.
She will stand unassisted.
She will walk out of that rehab center.
She will return to work one day.
And she will enjoy the activities she used to love, too.
It may take some time, and she may need the much more support from her family, friends, and from complete strangers, but she will pick up where life almost stopped.
I wish I could say the same thing will happen for some of the families I know. Even if those families don’t get the support they need from those closest to them, many others here in our community will step in. More than happy to listen, to help, to reach out, and to always lend a hand, there are so many people here willing and ready to support our families. This journey can be difficult and it may at times be riddled with obstacles, but thank God we have each other.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.