It's been five years since we began a reluctant (but very much necessary) journey with Jonathan to help him assimilate to everyday life while on the spectrum. And if you would have told me that five years from then our boy would be "graduating" from the program, reveling in being the center of attention, yapping constantly for two hours, and appreciating everyone that was there in his own personal way--there is no way I'd have believed you.
Yet that is what happened yesterday.
Our journey, as is the case with most along the autism spectrum, has been a roller coaster ride. Five years ago Jonathan was barely verbal and he communicated mostly by pinching anyone who didn't give him his way. He wasn't potty trained and we didn't have a clue how we'd be teaching him that with a communication barrier. He had some epic meltdowns in public and in private.
Yet Jonathan has always had a loving side too, and Jen and I and his WEAP (Wisconsin Early Autism Project) team wanted to coax as much of that out as possible. Yesterday it was evident that that particular mission had been accomplished--but it was so much more. No coaxing was necessary when it was all fueled by a boy's genuine excitement and sense of pride at graduating the program. It was Jonathan showing love for his friends and teachers, but on top of that he was the life of the party, something we would never have believed could happen back in 2011.
Many of his therapists (aka "big friends") were there, including Stephanie, his first senior; Ali and Katie, his first line therapists; Jevin, his most recent senior; Chelsea, the "friends club" leader; Jenna, Caleb, and Caitlin--the more recent line therapists. His first/second grade teaching team of Ms. Bradley, Mrs. Carden and Mrs. Olander were there, and they have had an enormous impact on Jonathan as well--treating him like every other student and yet still giving him the personal attention he needs.
When we came to the realization that Jonathan was ready to move on to the next chapter in his journey, it felt like the universe looked at him, looked at us and gave our family a wink, a nod and a giant thumbs up. The WEAP team was gracious, proud and accommodating, and suggested that we have this graduation ceremony. Jevin made him a diploma, and Jonathan gave a speech (much of it was Sesame Street scripting, but he was still fearless).
We know this is just a stop on the journey. But it's one we can stop at, look around and be incredibly thankful to everyone that has shaped our boy into the awesome little person he's become. We can look forward with much less apprehension and much more excitement. We are humbled and appreciative. But mostly, we are proud of our son and all that he's accomplished so far.