Gripping granite with my fingertips and toes a thousand feet off the ground is not my idea of fun. With feet firmly planted in the Merced River’s sand banks, I peered through binoculars to locate the orange dot I saw about halfway up El Capitan’s granite face. Binoculars make me feel dizzy, and the angle of the afternoon sun across Yosemite Valley didn’t help that sensation. Then, suddenly, my eyes found the orange dot. I was mesmerized: there was a person plastered up against a tiny portion of the Southeast Wall like Spiderman on a skyscraper.
He, or she, did not appear to be moving. Could I expect to actually see the arms and legs crawling up the rock face? Hardly. I considered the climber’s situation. Mid-afternoon. Blue skies. Late September sun fading fast. Wind kicking up while temperatures go down. Sudden Sierra storms posing a possible threat. I felt my stomach lurch as I imagined the view from that location. Talk about vertigo! The climber would have to rapidly ascend or descend before darkness made the climb more dangerous than it was. Or perhaps, as another onlooker speculated, s/he would attach a thin yet sturdy portaledge to the wall and sleep there till sunrise. Not me, I thought with certainty. I’d never ever ever have the desire or skill to climb rock, even though as a child I climbed trees, monkey bars, fences, garage roofs, walls, and door frames.
I handed the binoculars back to the kind person who shared them. He focused on the wall examining different points and discovered at least, he said, 11 other climbers on El Cap’s Nose. I kept thinking what kind of person can take on such a task? A raven croaked and a warm breeze blew my hair across my cheeks. Zach was crouched low in the sand, far enough from the river that I didn’t have to glue my eyes to his body. He was streaming sand through his delicate fingers and making content vocalizations. His noise-reducing earphones didn’t cancel out the crow, and he looked up and delighted in the black bird’s beckonings. My husband and the kind person were talking about El Cap, and a woman standing next to him caught my eye and said, “My son was like yours.”
In a split second, my attention plunged from the “crazy” people on the cliff to the scintillating words this woman spoke. I tucked my hair behind my ear. “What’s his name?” she asked.
“Zach.” I replied. Hair from my left side smacked my nose. I tucked again.
“Hi Zach,” she said quietly. He did not look up but gave her a wave behind his back.
“Have you ever been to a naturopath?” she inquired.
“Yes. We’ve been to…well, lots of practitioners. It’s a long journey…as I guess you know…” My locks lashed my lips and I felt embarrassed.
“Until we saw a naturopath, nothing changed for my son. He was just getting worse. This naturopath we saw in Boise…he made a huge difference. My son went from near-institutionalization to college. In about one year.”
I almost didn’t know what to say. “Who? How?” was all I could utter given my shock and a mouthful of tresses.
As our conversation continued, the men joined in, and I listened to her story. She explained the years of research she did (sounded familiar). The struggles with her son’s behavior (familiar). The worries about his future (definitely familiar). The therapies they tried (yes, that too). I cannot recall what led her to that particular naturopath, but she told me that within months of starting targeted treatment, her son stepped into a whole other realm. A new life opened up for him. At age 27, he was earning a college degree and making the Dean’s list.
I have met a myriad of people who share their stories, and if you double that count, that’s how many people have given me suggestions about what to do when you have a child with autism. When I was new to autism, I kept a running list of things to explore. Everything, I figured, was open to consideration. IV chelation, secretin infusions, ketogenic diets, Son Rise programs, high dose P5P, and even “scarf therapy.” (A woman suggested we get long, colorful scarves and caress them along Zach’s body several times a day). An outing to a park one day resulted in a cross country trip to Pennsylvania on the advice of a another autism mom who swore by Dr. Kane’s protocol. Treatments that made sense to us and came up safe after researching them, we tried. We tried and we tried and we tried.
Why did we try treatments? Some might say there is no point to remediating autism. Some might think autism is a permanent mental condition that one is born with, and there’s no changing that. And some may go so far as to criticize the parent who dares “cure autism” because there is nothing wrong with being “autistic.” It’s “different wiring,” some claim. That would all be well and fine, if the physical body didn’t suffer. My child lost the ability to speak. My child spent sleepless nights year after year bent over in abdominal pain. My child covered his ears at the sound of a chair being pushed in. My child shrieked incessantly unless we were spinning him, rocking him, or tossing him in the air with bedsheets. My child suffered seizures. My child has chronic gut issues. My child does not produce sweat like other people do. My child’s blood work always shows something abnormal and no one knows why. My child has migraines. My child has methylation problems. My child understands what is said to him and around him, but cannot respond with speech. My child was solving complex math problems at age 3 and reading books. My child wants to be included and accepted and valued like any other human being. Why wouldn’t I want to try anything and everything I could to bring him relief, happiness, health, balance, sleep, friends, independence, verbal language, and a bright future?
Standing in front of me was a woman who restored her son’s health. As we talked further, I was experiencing a sensation I hadn’t felt in a while. There was a surge inside. A sense of hope gripped me, the way a climber might grip a jib. She didn’t know it, but after a couple of years of big-time struggles, I was losing hope that things could improve. It seems the older one’s child gets, the slimmer the chances are of making a difference. On the floor of the great Yosemite Valley, surrounded by monoliths carved from ancient glaciers, standing solidly on grassy ground but wavering somewhere between exhaustion and despair, I felt grateful for this chance meeting with generous and open people. The young man’s mom, his champion, gave me a life line. She provided a rope on which I could secure some hope again.
“Can I give you the doctor’s name?” the woman asked. The groundswell of hope in my gut took away my logic for a moment, and I scrambled in my bag for a pen and paper. I couldn’t find a pen and almost panicked. My husband’s logical words hit my ears. “Use your phone…”
We traded names and numbers as the distance naturally grew between our feet, indicating they were going on their way and we on ours. I walked backwards as the sunlight shone extra bright on their shoulders. Zach picked up on the departure and said, “Buh buh buh.” A gust of chilly Yosemite wind heaved all my hair onto my face, and when I whipped it all back, the kind people were gone.
I located the orange dot again, now higher up on the Nose. I squinted and pondered her path. With patience and perseverance, she kept ascending what looked like an unconquerable climb. She would put one foot above the other and hoist herself against all odds up a monstrous barrier. The granite shards could give way at any moment despite ever-sturdy and unchanging appearances. Conditions around her could change in the blink of an eye. Pressing her whole being against her opponent, the climber calculated each and every step. Focusing her whole mind, she weighed every decision she made. Feeling with her whole heart, she lavished her soul with the boundless beauty around her. Facing her fear, she endured with fortitude. Striving for an ultimate accomplishment, she gradually, methodically, unfalteringly stayed the course. What kind of person can take on such a task? The question came to mind again.
An autism mom. Every autism mom. That’s who. She climbs every day of her parental life. She challenges limitations. She topples obstacles. She steadies her convictions. She protects with ferocity. She shores up her resilience. She proceeds with tenacity. She shirks cruel judgment. She pushes the boundaries. She turns over stones. She cries and recovers. She slips and she secures. She is not defeated by the boulder. She surmounts.
She is the orange dot on the face of the autism monolith who somehow manages to anchor herself and cultivate the strength to keep going. With patience, heart, and grit, she can handle the crux. She breathes deeply and takes in the stunning views that such a unique life affords.