I have special needs, but my mom never gave up on me

By SaraGrace Griffin

I was born in a broken body. It has a lot of issues, but the biggest one was Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was diagnosed with Multisystem Developmental Disorder—an outdated diagnosis—when I was almost a year old. I was uncommunicative. I never responded to anything, I rarely cried except in extreme situations or when I needed something, and I always wanted to be left alone, never touched or cooed at or cuddled.

One therapist told my mother to grab my face and pull against me, anchor me with her kaleidoscope eyes that were the same as mine. I tossed my infant head around to look anywhere else; I don’t know why I wouldn’t look her in the eye. Maybe I had already learned to be ashamed of weakness.

I tried to squirm out of her plier fingers clamped onto my chin. I flailed and failed, so I cried and she cried. Our colors ran together as the tears blurred and blended them.

Mama cried because her own baby couldn’t love her, just like her mother and her husband. It was evident just how much they cared when she had to fight them for my therapy.

“She’s fine,” they said, even when the doctors said I had a developmental disorder. “Her vision is fine,” until the doctor proclaimed that I was blind in one eye, and they were proven wrong. When they were proven wrong with the MSDD diagnosis, my grandmother blamed Mama for my issues. My father went on the war path about money.

“They just want all our money, my money,” he screamed. All the credit card debt my care would require trumped my ability to communicate like a normal human being.

She fought him with one hand and held my chin in the other, I was forced to look at the mess I had created. I was a financial drain. My mother would pull out the stopper and let all my father’s cash flush down me, never to be seen again by anyone other than the speech therapist, the pediatrician, the ophthalmologist, the otolaryngologist, the physical therapist, the allergist, the holistic medicine practitioner, the orthodontist, the acupuncturist, the dermatologist, the chiropractor, soon the gynecologist.

I told Mama to stop taking me to doctors when I was twelve. I didn’t want to be a burden financially, but it didn’t exactly work. I was born into a broken body, and I couldn’t escape the need for doctors and bills.

I have left my parents’ house, and I am still taking my father’s money. Even though we don’t have to scrub shit off church bathroom walls anymore to pay our debts. He makes three times as much as he made ten years ago, and now he tells me, “Whatever you need, Grace, I’ll do whatever I can to help you out.” But, my whole life, it was my mother who had been proving to me that she would.

Mama gave me everything I have today. My father might have given me most material things, but everything I can claim as my own—my spirit and my passion and my abilities—have all been her doing.

Though Mama will admit she has done much more for me than my father, she doesn’t take any credit for fixing my issues.

“You are a miracle, SaraGrace,” she often says. “Don’t you know how many people prayed for you? Week after week in church, I’d bring you up to that alter, and so many people reached out to us, even outside of church.”

She has told me this over the years, usually with tears dripping from her cheeks, especially when I express doubts over her God. But I don’t think it was faith or prayers that fixed me, though her faith in God could have been a driving force for her.

I was healed by her watching me and knowing there was a problem when I was just a few months old. She intervened at the opportune stage in my development, and she didn’t give up. She wasn’t lazy about treatments and therapy either. She searched high and low for every possible solution. She didn’t settle on the professionals who told her that I would most likely be unresponsive for the rest of my life, and she didn’t let their words discourage her from believing I could be normal.

“You don’t know what you were like,” she says. “Sometimes it seemed like you were too far gone. But look at you! You’re articulate, you made straight A’s all through school and even through college now, and, of all things, you want to be a writer. A writer! I would never have imagined that for you. Never.”

I may have been born with a broken body, but I was also born from a tenacious mother who will do anything in her power to help, support, and love me. No matter what Mama does, even if she annoys the hell out of me or yells at me or says something sexist that offends me to my very core, I owe her everything I am and everything I will become. You can’t buy love like that.

SaraGrace Griffin is an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, studying Creative Writing and Psychology in an attempt to comprehend their existence. They can be found traversing their native backwoods of eastern North Carolina, or, if that isn’t your scene, you can contact them at sjgriffin28@gmail.com.

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