I recently read an amazing essay by Emily Perl Kingsley that I hear is rather famous. It’s called “Welcome to Holland”.
In it, the author essentially compares being a special needs parent to taking a deviation from a planned vacation. You have spent your whole life looking forward to going to Italy. You have planned, saved, and read every brochure out there about all the best places to see. Finally, you purchase your ticket, board the plane, and sit back to relax.
As you land, the flight crew announces “Welcome to Holland!” Holland? You were heading to Italy! Why are you in Holland? Unfortunately, you can’t go back. But as you get used to Holland, you begin to see the beauty around you. Even though you still have friends who will brag about their trips to Italy, you begin to love and appreciate Holland—and in the end, you wouldn’t change it.
As I read this essay, I cried. It so PERFECTLY explained how I had been feeling as a special needs mom. Just recently, I was privately lamenting how much I wish my son could have easy social interactions like I do. I love people and conversation. But those things makes him so uncomfortable! It’s painful wishing that for him and comparing it to what he experiences. I don’t let myself go down that path very far, because it is just asking for depression. But after reading that article, I realize I have been blessed in a different way.
My son has the biggest heart. He is expressive with his love and enjoys spending time with me. This Mother’s Day, he did something that warmed my heart. He wanted to get me a surprise gift. He insisted we go to Target, even though it stresses him out to go to stores and he usually avoids them like the plague.
But here was this 9-year-old boy, marching with determination, into the store. When he was sure I would give him privacy, he ducked into the jewelry department and chose something. He went to the checkout and paid for it. Then, he proudly held the bag and its safely concealed gift while I checked out. This is a sweet memory I would never trade.
Autism Land is my Holland. Here, social cues are hard to understand. Taking turns, sharing, and being in crowds are all challenging for my son. I am still surprised by how attached he gets to toys and games. He will watch the most boring educational shows for fun and his fixations can rule the whole family. I have given up turning him into a Harry Potter fan—fantasy just seems dumb to him because imagination is hard for him. But when he accomplishes something, the victories are sweet.
My son has gifts that balance out his challenges. He has a heart of gold. He loves little children and animals. He is super honest, often telling on himself when he does something he knows is wrong. He is smart and loves to learn. He wants friends—and when he makes a friend, he is a friend for life.
It still breaks my heart watching his challenges, but I have learned to celebrate every success—no matter how small. For example, last week he showered every time he was supposed to. I was ready to dance in the streets!
I’ve got to admit, I am still getting used to being in Holland instead of Italy. But the view is getting better and better as I am learning to look for the good and appreciate the different pace of life.
This article was previously published on Abby’s page at Patheos.com
About Abby Christianson
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.