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The Angel on His Shoulders

There are times when I think Matt walks with an angel on his shoulders. This week, my husband was offered a new position that would require him to work every Friday through Sunday and in exchange would pay him a great deal more.  Our first response was “when would we see each other?”  That was replaced soon after with the thought, “oh my, Matt would have a back-up for every single day”.  You guessed it - we decided he should take it. It took about 5 minutes to decide.


That got me to thinking and reflecting back over the years and made me realize that this is no coincidence.  Every step we take, every move we make, Matt has always been the blessed receiver of each new circumstance.  Over the years Matt was met with kindness, compassion, and new experiences.  Each off-shoot of our struggles and financial upheavals had always worked out well for him.  He seems to naturally attract people that show him a bit of kindness, a bit of help – always just the right people at just the right time. In our turmoil and chaotic life we have been able to look back and see how even the loss of jobs sparked new developments that fit perfectly with what Matt needed at the time. Let me give a few examples......


There was the perfect interaction between myself and Matt's teachers over the years, from preschool to high school. I found teacher's that would listen to my concerns, and although they were skeptical, allowed for the possibility that there was more to Matt than meets the eye. My grandma always told me you can get more with honey than with vinegar and I rarely raised my voice and never started an interaction with anger.  As a result, confrontations were few, acceptance and a willingness to go beyond the normal procedures were more apt to happen and Matt felt the benefit every step of the way.  That’s not to say I didn’t have my moments –I pushed when needed, even got angry a few times in order to relate what I felt needed to be done – but they were few and far between.  The teachers knew I would never give up and instead of fighting or arguing they learned and put into practice the methods that gave my son a fighting chance.


But nothing was just given to him – ever.  I never wanted that and they knew it. I needed to know what Matt could really do and what he couldn't do, so there was no "easy pass" and they respected me for that. They knew I wanted Matt to learn, not to be babied or get a grade for a grade’s sake.  He was intelligent in many ways and once they saw that autism does not mean low IQ they went for the creative instruction. Teachers from the previous year would help the teacher of the next year – I admire them for their concern and upholding their educational standards.  Matt's education was also blessed with 2 very wonderful aides that bonded to my son as if he were thier own child. They always had his back – Matt’s surrogates while at school.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't always a walk in the park, but it was made so much easier by the people that came into my son's life year after year.


Even his bus driver was a blessing.  His bus driver, Mr. Jackson, drove Matt’s special education bus throughout his entire school career.  Mr. J. was a gruff elderly fellow who saw something in my young son that immediately attached him heart and soul. He was always on the lookout  for signs of distress, and never allowed anyone to come between Matt's bus ride routine and his destination. If Matt cried about anything there would be hell to pay.  When retirement came he decided to put it off one more year in order to drive the bus for Matt in his last year. Such was the bond between Matt and Mr. Jackson. 


There was an exceptional big brother, who taught Matt games and interactions and became Matt's focus as to how to act, what to say, and most amazingly became the anti-bullying body guard. My oldest son, who as a senior had his handicapped little brother enter the same small school, did not see his little brother as an embarrassment. Instead, there was a fierce bond and a protection factor that prevented bullying, showing no fear to anyone.  Misconduct by another person - regardless of whether they were student or faculty - were met  with the wrath of the outspoken and fearless older brother, always putting his brother's feelings and safety first.  My fears of bullying slipped away as his older brother had influenced an entire school. Even after he graduated Matt had “buddies” and teachers who took the place of my older son, stepped up and took an interest in his safety, in his feelings, and especially in Matt as a person – not just someone with moderate /severe autism.


As for me, my job took me from a career in the medical field to one in teaching where my schedule actually fell in sync with my son's and awareness could be disseminated to a new generation - a generation who would know another individual with autism at some point in their lives - possibly in their own child. As my schedule became steady my time to teach Matt increased.  The bold strides he made, the accelerated progress of those years were a culmination of so many new experiences and chances to teach him new things because I had the perfect schedule and more opportunities to meet his needs.


Even these past 6 years with alternating periods of joblessness and contracts for my husband has allowed his search for full time work to provide a way for Matt to experience new places.  Going with my husband took Matt away from home for weeks on end, practicing for life on his own. It also provided time for Tom to get to understand and communicate better with Matt and to become exceptionally close. And now - as Matt prepares to move - my husband's new work schedule will be the complete opposite of mine. What that means to us is that Matt will have one of us there for him no matter which day, no matter which hour, we will be there to support him when he needs us, to help him and encourage him to go beyond what anyone else had ever dreamed possible, but many came to dream with him just the same.


Yes, I think Matt has had an angel on his shoulders for a very long time.


Long ago when he was only 5 years old, I was watching him get out of his bus seat, grab his pack and head for the door when he turned his head, said something and gave a short wave behind him. There was no one on the bus except the driver - and he was up front in the opposite direction. As I held my son's hand and walked him back to the house I asked him who he had waved to. He said only one word – “angel”.


Matt may not see that angel anymore, he may not wave or speak to him, but that angel is still there - watching out for my son, turning our lives upside down - sometimes for years on end - to make Matt's life the best it could possibly be. My prayers for my son - from his diagnosis to the present - had always been to give my son the chance to be who he needs to be. That prayer had been slowly answered in a thousand little ways over the past 27years.  The steps were so small, so seemingly chaotic that it never occurred to me then.  I never saw it back then.  But I know now -  God sent an angel.


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