December 31, 2002 — New Year’s resolutions don’t appeal to me very much today because I don’t want to think about being a better person. Are there things that I can improve upon in 2013? Certainly, but that’s not the issue.
Behind every resolution is the deliberate and conscious decision to do or not do something. Making one on New Year’s usually assumes that you are going to do something different from the previous year and that difference will almost 100% be an improvement. No one resolves to be a worse person.
I say meh to that notion. Meh, I tell you.
In 2013, I’m going to do something daring. I’m going to be more myself.
Sure, I made mistakes in 2012 and I’ll probably make new ones next year. I just think that at my age I don’t want to make apologies for who I am anymore and I might as well celebrate what makes me who I am.
That’s why I came up with a manifesto. For months, I’ve been thinking about my personal philosophy instead of any self-improvement to-do list. I don’t feel a need to write my whole manifesto here because there’s no need. I believe that my inner thoughts will give way to my actions towards others.
Why am I feeling so Zen and at peace after such a tumultuous year?
A few days ago, I was backing up my computer and found the following excerpt of my essay for New York City Teaching Fellows. I was going to be a special education teacher, even before my son was diagnosed with autism. I reread the two pages describing 2006, the year of my son’s diagnosis, and I realized I am the same. I still reflect on old experiences in the same way, even after 6 years’ worth of new challenges in raising my son.
I found comfort in my own words, as narcissistic as that sounds, because certainty in a life with autism is a luxury. I have taught myself to be as flexible, open-minded and adaptable as possible to understand my son. Knowing that I am the same person that I was in 2006 assures me, however imperceptibly, that I’m doing something right. I don’t need somebody else to validate me and my parenting, though I do appreciate it when someone compliments me. I did it myself.
One good thing about self-acceptance is that it’s viral. I accept who I am and I can teach my son to do the same. Not a bad start to a manifesto, if I do say so myself.
If you have time to check out the essay, read below and have a happy new year.
[Writer’s note: It’s not exactly untouched. I couldn’t help from making slight grammatical improvements.]
Then, June 28th came. I remembered because I heard the words “PDD-autism” from the neurologist on the same day as my mother’s birthday. I also heard “definitely autism” on the day before my father’s birthday in August. In between those months, I had only one doctor offer the opinion of “probably not autism” but he was quickly overruled. The year was suddenly split in two: pre-autism and post-autism. In the first “pre-autism” months his father and I felt like his diagnosis was an indictment that would eventually condemn him to a lifetime sentence of academic obstacles and social alienation.
I needed time before I could completely accept autism as part of him. Even after reality had set in and I scheduled assessments and treatment appointments one after the other, I was still trying to grasp the meaning of everything. I wasn’t sure why any of it was happening, as in why did my son have to have autism. Did my desire to teach make this entire ordeal more bearable? Did my son’s need draw out and strengthened my resolve to be a good teacher?
The answers are not important. I needed him as much as he needed me – simple. He needed the mother in me who refused to give up on her son. For his sake and mine, I needed to be the kind of person who would not give up on anyone. I know my son will learn differently from other children because of autism. He processes language in a way that I did not understand until recently. I refused to allow the world to shut him out at only three years old. I believed that abilities, natural and attained, carry us through obstacles to the best of possibilities.
I don’t know the exact moment but I decided that I would not let autism disable him. I chose to focus on his abilities, and his potential for more. I threw myself into parent training in Applied Behavioral Analysis with promising initial results. When his progress reached a plateau and I hated myself for my shortcomings, I kept going. I read all the related books in the catalog and on interlibrary loan. I nagged his service coordinator in the early steps program for any and all services he could qualify. I called nonprofit agencies and parent volunteers who might have resources for him, and then I nagged his service coordinator even more. The entire month of November was ruined for me because I played phone tag for weeks with a behavior analyst, the hospital insurance specialist, and my insurance coordinators over the slightest chance of behavioral therapy. I heard the final “no” on the last day of November, my birthday.
Tenacity or plain obstinateness got me through December. The feeling of helplessness that ebbed and flowed in my life last year made me fall back on whatever ounce (or gallons) of tenacity I had in me. A “no” on Monday meant that I would keep calling or e-mailing someone on Tuesday, Wednesday, and on until I got a “yes.” I would not give up until I found people who would not give up on my son. At this time, he attends a school where his teachers appreciate his unique qualities and learning style as I hope to do for others in the future.
I want to be the tenacious advocate of education and learning for others. I want to prove the abilities need to be nurtured and sustained through resources in and out of the community.
Pamela K. Santos (@PamelaKSantos) isn’t usually this self-assured but it’s New Year’s Eve so might as well be bold. As always, she is honored to get the chance everyday to be a mom to #ThisKidHere.