Written by Wendy Garafalo, guest blogger
This is a story about a boy, his diagnosis, and the way LOVE can shift everything….
My son Luca, has autism. It still feels strange to write it, but it’s our truth and it’s something we’ve embraced and learned to love. Luca was an amazing baby, slept well, ate well. He had an incredible way of letting me know when he was done and ready to move on to the next phase. At about 5 months, he took out his pacifier and threw it across the room. I couldn’t ever get it back in his mouth. At about 15 months, after nursing one morning, he rolled off and said ‘bye bye boobie!’ And never asked for it again. He was very verbal, speaking full sentences just after his first birthday. As new parents, we didn’t know any different. We simply thought he was special. And indeed he is!
Luca has a little sister, Aviana. They are about 20 months apart. When Aviana turned 2, She began talking more and she and I started having conversations. Not many people could understand her, but I could and there was definitely a back and forth happening that had never happened with Luca. At the time, Luca was almost 4 and we had recently moved to Carlsbad. He was extremely particular about things. He always had to push the light switch or the garage door button. And if he didn’t get to push it…. Explosions, tantrums, etc. I talked with other moms and they reassured me that this was normal 3-year-old behavior. So, I brushed off my concerns many times.
Until one morning, when my husband approached me, eyes red and puffy. He said he had been on the Autism Speaks website and he was really concerned that Luca might have autism. I froze, I couldn’t handle that thought. I didn’t know much about autism, but there was no way my little boy had it. I put on a happy face and went downstairs to start my day with the kids. Those were probably the hardest couple of days. Watching Luca and feeling the questions start to build in my head.
My husband and I agreed to have him evaluated. And a few months later, we heard that word… autism. And it hit us hard. How could this have happened? Why didn’t we see it sooner? What did I do wrong when I was pregnant. On and on the questions came thru my head. On our way home my husband said to me, ‘he’s still the same boy we’ve always known and loved’. And yes he was, but now we needed to let go of our expectations of how we thought his life might turn out and simply meet him where he is. We needed to work our way thru the blame, and we needed to give ourselves a little space to mourn, to accept and to figure out ‘now what?’ Luckily, where we live offers a lot of help and resources. Right away we got Luca into a special program. We found a therapist who he loved, and we started our journey into the world of autism.
We decided early on that we wanted to share what we were going thru. Day by day, we were realizing that the diagnosis wasn’t a curse, a weight to bear, but rather it gave us a jumping off point. We had been treading water for a while, and now we were provided a platform and could choose a direction to go. At the time of his diagnosis, Luca was obsessed with letters and fonts. It was hard to take him to the grocery story as he wanted to stop and look at each package and try to determine the font. Keep in mind he’s 4 years old. He was incredibly intrigued by words written on glass doors and windows. It frustrated him to walk on the other side and see the words in reverse. His little mind simply couldn’t grasp it. After asking me about it at least a hundred times, he finally seemed to accept it.
A few weeks later I noticed Luca drawing with chalk on some planter boxes we have in the back yard. I watched as he wrote the word LOVE completely in reverse. I came out with a rag to erase it and help him write it the ‘right’ way. He stopped me and said, “I wrote it that way for the plants to read from the inside.” I looked at him, and he went back to drawing. I walked back inside and sat down, my heart exploding, and I cried. I cried because I felt I was just given a little glimpse into how his amazing mind works. His reasoning for love in reverse was simply brilliant. Why would I need to read it, when it wasn’t meant for me?!
I knew I had to share this story, so I wrote it out and shared it on social media. It was our way of telling the world what we had been going thru and how it wasn’t as scary as you may think. This story illustrated it all for me. Luca’s mind works differently, and he’s here to teach me about compassion and love. I felt the need to get this message out, beyond my social media reach. So, I started a company and we started making feel good items that have a message of love in reverse. And we donate to local charities who help kids with autism. The thought is, when you wear the hat, the shirt, the jewelry, Luca’s message of love in reverse is constantly being delivered in to your soul. It doesn’t matter what you wear, or how you look, or your age or your weight. All that matters is the love you feel on the inside. That’s what Luca taught me that day. And now my mission is to share his story, to create awareness around autism. And to remind everyone to stop judging, stop comparing and start loving! It’s all that matters, it’s all that will ever matter.