My grandsons were born twins and one twin was given the challenge of autism. Perhaps it is more accurate to say my daughter and her husband were provided an opportunity to test their parental love and parental devotion with one of their children and my grandchild. So far, over a decade of time, they have succeeded in every way in spite of all the obstacles that accompanies a special child like this one.  So, when my daughter shared Emily Kingsley essay "Welcome to Holland" with me, I was profoundly moved by the clarity of what it means to realize the child you have been looking forward to and about whom you have so many future plans presents a situation you neither expected or were equipped to deal with.

                                                            WELCOME TO HOLLAND

by Emily Perl Kingsley
©©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.
All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel.
It's like this…… When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
AutismBut there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…. and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

But, there are those parents of autistic children who feel the poem doesn't express their total view of the issue. See

The mother who wrote her reaction to the essay said, in part, this:

"…what this poem doesn’t touch on, is the reality of this detour. This is not as simple as leaving for Italy and landing in Holland and not even realizing you were headed in the wrong direction in the first place. When your child is going through the process of an autism diagnosis, you know that it is coming.

I have accepted that my son has autism and I am doing my best to enjoy every day that I have with him; after all, there are many mommies out there who won’t get to tuck their children in tonight. I am so very grateful for all that our family has in life.

However, it doesn’t mean that S’s autism has just caused a simple little detour in our lives. It is not like taking a wrong turn and being delighted to find a new awesome coffee shop around the corner. It is like everything you need or want to do in Holland is ten times more difficult and costly than in Italy. No matter what you do in Holland, you feel completely alone and like you stand out like a sore thumb…  and you just know you would have blended right in in Italy. Not to mention, this is NOT a vacation. You do not get to leave and go back home one day… the life you knew before the diagnosis and the one you had always envisioned for your family in the future is gone. Your child will deal with this detour forever.

When you are raising an autistic child, your Holland is filled with a lot of additional, and very difficult, obstacles… and everyone around is sipping coffee in Venice."

Whatever is the right viewpoint about this essay, all I really know about raising an autistic child is that the parents who do so with love and compassion are heros who, were they in the military, would be entitled to a medal of valor. 


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