Dear Ms. Amy,

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I remember the first time we met. We were scheduled for a 5 p.m. Friday evening appointment with you last August. New to Arkansas, my mom obviously didn’t understand the nightmare that Friday night traffic from Bentonville (where we live) to Fayettville (where you practice) is. You should’ve seen her. She was a stress ball; talking to herself and rambling things like “What a way to make a first impression,” and, “Way to go Catina – this is SOOO professional – late on your first appointment.” I tried to tune her out and jam out to the Taylor Swift she had playing for me and we sat in a parking lot of cars on the 540 South. Finally she broke down and called your clinic to let y’all know we were going to be 20 minutes late. She was used to West-Coast rudeness and rigidity which often stipulates that if you are more than 10 minutes late, you must reschedule. Still adapting to Southern hospitality and kindness, I could see my mom’s shoulders relax as hung up the phone with your clinic.  She looked at me and said, “They told us to come on down anyway, Adam.” My mom talks to me all of the time. I understand most of what she says, even though I can’t always reciprocate verbally. But you already know that, don’t you?

When we got to the clinic, I don’t know what either one of us expected, but it sure wasn’t what we were greeted with.  We knew you had a 19-year-old son of your own with autism, so we expected at least a middle-aged woman, who would greet us as most clinical professionals have these last 14 years: with a pleasant smile and a nice handshake of introduction.

So, you may not remember our first encounter as vividly as we do but here’s how it went: My mom and I were in the waiting room sitting on those awesome black squishy chairs when you came through the doors from the clinical area. And then you stopped short. At first we thought something was wrong. Then you gasped. Really, you did. Then we really thought something was wrong. But you were smiling too. You gasped and covered your mouth with both hands and took a good ten seconds staring at me, but there was light in your eyes. When you uncovered your mouth, you said, “You are my Steven five years ago.” Then you turned to my mom and said, “He so handsome! He looks just like my Steven!”

I am pretty handsome, aren’t I?

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And according to my mom, Steven is really handsome too. (Come on….one guy can’t call another guy handsome. It’s just not cool at 15).

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We were just as surprised by your appearance. You weren’t old. You were young and beautiful and so full of energy and life.  My mom and I both knew immediately that this was going to be a good partnership… My mom had been looking forward to this appointment for a while and already felt an unspoken camaraderie with you, knowing that you had truly been through it. She had heard from a client of yours that, being frustrated with the lack of great speech therapists during Steven’s youth, you had decided to take matters into your own hands, go back to school as a single mama, and get your masters degree in speech pathology. As a matter of fact, when she called the clinic to schedule our assessments with you, the receptionist suggested another speech therapist because you already had such a heavy case load. Know what my mom said? She said and I quote, “It’s Amy or no one.” So, they let it be you. 😉

We’ve had a lot of amazing professionals help me in my life: ABA and RDI consultants, speech and occupational therapists, psychiatrists, neurologists, tutors and therapists. But none have been quite like you. Because you’ve been SO GOOD for me AND my mom. You know what it’s like to lose your first born to the phantom called autism. To understand what it is to grieve it, to live it and to learn to celebrate every accomplishment. You know what it’s like to be both unfairly judged AND to have more special people in your life than most, precisely because of Steven’s autism and the impact he’s made on their lives and vice versa.  You know what it’s like to be a part of something meaningful and life changing every day or your life, but you also know exhaustion beyond measure because your boy has put you through the sleep-wringer the way I have my parents.

You’ve chased Steven down the street and installed special locks and alarms to keep him safe. You’ve bathed this big boy of man and worked your tail off to keep him on the special diet that you know will keep him healthiest. You’ve let your love for your special boy drive your every decision and I know you. You will never give up. You’ve struggled and tried so hard to make sure there was balance between Steven’s needs and his sister’s. And we could tell this about you after the first time we spent time with you. And you were a kindred spirit for my mom from day one.

And the last few weeks as friends and family have been trying to console my mom (because she really has been grieving about having to leave you), they tell her things like, “You’ll find a great speech therapist in Southern California too.” My mom just says back with a sad face, “Not like this one.”

So back to that Friday night: you took my mom and me back to the therapy area and you – you short little tiny thing – pushed a  5’7”, 165-pound teenager on swings and sang Wheels on the Bus and ABC’s and a myriad of other songs with your beautiful raspy voice the whole time.Just like this but without the microphone:

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(P.S. My mom is bummed she never got to make it to one of your gigs.)

But that Friday you wanted to make sure my first experience with you was a good one, so you did everything you could to make sure I had loads of fun, including jumping on the trampoline with me, sending me down the zip line, taking me to the sensory room where I was free to explore the bubbling 5-foot light tube and ball pit. And you and my mom. Geez, when you weren’t singing to me, you two chattered the whole time. I didn’t care honestly, because there was so much for me to explore and do. You shared stories of Steven and she shared stories of me. And your lives, though different, were so much the same. And Steven and I though different, were so much the same.

And although during our phone calls with the clinic during the summer, we had been advised that you’d probably only be able to see me once a week with your packed schedule, we left that night, knowing that we’d see you four times a week. You squished and rearranged and made that happen for me.

And you’ve spent the last ten months loving me, and teaching me and getting creative beyond measure to reach me. You’ve greeted us in the parking lot several times when my mom called you to let you know I was having a rough day. Sometimes it took the two of you to get me inside, when I wasn’t feeling myself. But the truth is that for the majority of our appointments, I jumped out of bed and straight in the shower when mom said, “Let’s go see Ms. Amy.” Because I knew true learning, stimulation, happiness and understanding was about to take place. And I bounced in our truck for 30 minutes to Adele, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars or Miranda Lambert the entire way from Bentonville to Fayettville. I’m so glad that most of our appointments were in the morning. You were a great way to start my day.

So, thank you for everything. Especially on my 15th birthday. My mom cried for several hours that day. She kissed my cheeks and said things like, “You should be in your first year of high school this year, Adam. Girls should be crushing on you and I bet with your physique, you’d be tearing it up in football. I wonder what instrument you’d be playing and what your favorite subject in school would be? I bet you’d be close to getting your Eagle Scout right now and bugging me for a cell phone. I won’t ever see you walk down the aisle with the woman of your dreams will I? I’m sorry Adam. I’m so sorry this happened to you.” So my mom contacted you because you had already been through a 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th birthday, with Steven. You had contemplated these very same losses and “what could have beens.” You knew what to say and it helped.

So, one of the hardest things for us about leaving this beautiful state is leaving you. We will both miss you. I know that we will stay in touch. My mom really does plan to make good on her promise to fly us both back to Arkansas every April to run the Autism Involves Me 5k with you and Steven. And thank heavens for facebook and technology. But loving you through facebook and text messages from 1,500 miles away will not be quite the same as loving you in person four times a week.

My mom’s already told you, we cannot listen to this song without thinking of you. But we thought you might like the lyrics on paper too.

You really have stolen our hearts.

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Stolen, by Dashboard Confessional

We watch the season pull up its own stage

And catch the last weekend of the last week

Before the gold and the glimmer have been replaced

Another sun soaked season fades away

You have stolen my heart

You have stolen my heart

Invitation only grant farewells

Crash the best one of the best ones

Clear liquor and cloudy eyed

Too early to say goodnight

You have stolen my heart

You have stolen my heart

And from the ballroom floor, we are in celebration

One good stretch before our hibernation

Our dreams assured and we all will sleep well

Sleep well, sleep well, sleep well, sleep well

You have stolen, you have stolen

You have stolen my heart

I watch you spin around in your highest heels

You are the best one of the best ones

And we all look like we feel

You have stolen my, you have stolen my

You have stolen my heart

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One response to “Dear Ms. Amy,

  1. Thank you Ms.Amy for making our Adam and Catina feel such a connection with you. You changed their lives. xoxo

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