Isabella Paul, Cristie’s mother:
Baptism, first day of school, first communion, fifteen years, eighteen years, graduation…these are all milestones in the life of our children that thrill us and make us feel proud. But also, as parents we imagine what those moments will be like and we make up stories that include our own dreams and illusions about the way we’d like our children to grow. That’s why each one of those milestones with Cristina, my oldest child who has severe autism, has been very difficult. It’s meant going back to the diagnostic, to the differences, to what isn’t, to what she hasn’t, and what she can’t experience.
For more than three years I’ve been preparing for her eighteenth birthday and the end of her school life. The most frequent feelings were fear, impotence, anguish, uncertainty. By all accounts, children are supposed to become more independent after graduation, and we, as parents begin to have less responsibilities, although no less distress. In the case of a child with severe autism, it’s the other way around as when he/she leaves school the support and affection she received from everyone is gone overnight. Impossible not to be afraid…
Friday, July 13 was Cristina’s last day of school. I woke up crying. The day I had feared so much had finally arrived. We were invited to the school for a “small farewell act”. With a wild mix of emotions I dressed smartly and went with her. What a pleasant surprise awaited us! The school had prepared a spectacular graduation act, with cap and gown, wonderful words by the school board, the staff, and one student…and Cristie. Her classmates were overwhelmed with emotion. They felt it was a super important day and behaved accordingly, parading to receive their medal and diploma, and posing readily for the photos; they were all overjoyed. All my previous feelings were transformed into happiness, affection, hope, excitement, pride. What a wonderful lesson it was!
At present I’m still not sure what I’m going to do though…but I’m going on ahead with the certainty that things will work out fine, that Cristie can handle anything…that she came to this world to teach me the values of perseverance. She had the graduation with which she had dreamed…thanks to everyone who made it possible.
Arianette Salinas, Maria Laura’s mother:
Last July 13, and after eighteen years of learning, we held her hand and closed a cycle, Maria Laura graduated!
That’s the dream every parent holds dear, to see one’s daughter graduate from school became a reality. A dream we had given up on, that we put aside and that we didn’t dare dream because when you have a child with a special condition those moments in life we’re familiar with become blurred, invisible and unattainable.
Maria Laura’s graduation with her six classmates reaffirms the faith that has accompanied us from the very first day of her life. Now we’re setting off on a new adventure, that of adult life; we’ll open new doors to a future laden with uncertainties, but also with the anticipation of new experiences and challenges to overcome, strengthened in our love of family and our profound faith.
Thanks ever so much to all those who have contributed to making this day happen, especially to those professionals at Cepia and Autism en Voz Alta who with their care, patience an powerful commitment carry out the difficult task of helping us discover and understand that human potential has no limits.