Holland May 12, 2018

I recently read this amazing essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, that I hear is rather famous. It’s called “Welcome to Holland”. Essentially the author compares being a special needs parent to taking a deviation from a planned vacation. You have spent your whole life looking forward to going to Italy. You have planned, and saved, and read every brochure out there about all the best places to see. So you purchase your ticket, board the plane, and sit back to relax.




As you land, the flight crew announces “Welcome to Holland!” Holland? You were heading to Italy! Why are you in Holland? Unfortunately you can’t go back. But as you get used to Holland, you begin to see the beauty around you. And even though you still have friends who will brag about their trip to Italy, you begin to love and appreciate Holland. And in the end you wouldn’t change it.


As I read this essay, I cried. It so PERFECTLY explained how I had been feeling as a special needs mom. Just recently I was privately lamenting how much I wish my son could have easy social interactions like I do. I love people and conversation. And it makes him so uncomfortable. It’s painful wishing that for him, and comparing it to what he experiences. I don’t let myself go down that path very far, because it is just asking for depression. But after reading that article, I realize I have been blessed in a different way.


Challenges/ Blessings


My son has the biggest heart. He is expressive with his love, and enjoys spending time with me. This Mother’s Day he did something that warmed my heart. He wanted to get me a surprise gift.  So he insisted we go to Target. It stresses him out to go to stores, and he usually avoids them like the plague.


But here was this 9 year old boy, marching with determination, into the store. When he was sure I would give him privacy, he ducked into the jewelry department and chose something. He went to the checkout and paid for it. And then proudly held the bag, and safely concealed gift, while I checked out. This is a sweet memory I would never trade.


Autism Land is my Holland. Here, social cues are hard to understand. Taking turns, sharing, and being in crowds are all challenging for my son. And I am still surprised by how attached he gets to toys and games. He will watch the most boring educational shows- for fun. His fixations can rule the whole family. And I have given up turning him into a Harry Potter fan. Fantasy just seems dumb to him .because imagination is hard for him. But when he accomplishes something, the victories are sweet.




My son has gifts that balance out his challenges. He has a heart of gold. He loves little kids and animals. He is super honest, often telling on himself when he does something he knows is wrong. He is smart and loves to learn. He wants friends. And when he makes a friend he is a friend for life.


It still breaks my heart watching his challenges. But I have learned to celebrate every success- no matter how small. For example, last week he showered every time he was supposed to. I was ready to dance in the streets!


I’ve got to admit, I am still getting used to being in Holland instead of Italy. But the view is getting better as I am learning to look for the good, and appreciate the different pace of life.


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  • Kenngo1969

    I am not the parent of a special-needs child. Alas, I am not a parent, period. I know how that happens … in theory: It seems that I have, however, attracted the collective indifference of the female of the species in its entirety, so perhaps to that extent, I know something (though not nearly as much as you or your son) about awkward social situations. The fact that, largely, I have been ignored by the female of the species makes me all the more grateful for the times … fleeting, few-and-far-between, and infrequent though they have been … when ladies have recognized my attention and has reciprocated, to however small a degree, my interest: I’ve been out with more than a few ladies I had no business going out with (read, they were way out of my league).

    I like to think that these ladies’ reason for reciprocating my interest was motivated by something more than mere pity. I like to think that, while perhaps they should have responded with a scornful, “But, Ken, don’t you know? I’m way out of your league!” they had enough class and grace and style to avoid doing so: And for that reason (as well as others) the time I spent in their company was a highlight for me, perhaps their “light-my-candle” experience for me and perhaps even (though, admittedly, to a much smaller degree) vice-versa.

    While I do not have autism, I have cerebral palsy. And while I know nothing about what it is like to be the parent of a special needs child, I can assure you that my mother certainly does. She certainly knows something about what it is like to celebrate seemingly-small (and yet not-so-small) victories. I had to work today (curses!), so I was unable to join her on her special day. To whatever meager, wholly inadequate extent I was able to remedy the situation by calling her, by e-mailing her, and by texting her, be assured that I have done so.

    I have many questions about my particular lot in life, so many different ways I would like an answer to the question, “Lord, why hast Thou dealt with me thus?” I look forward to the day when I will receive the answers … at least, some of them. More than that, I look forward to the day when so many of the reasons I might wish to ask the question will cease to matter. But. for all of my seemingly-unfulfilled potential, for all of my frustration, for all of the brick walls against which I seem to beat my head until it is bruised and battered and bloody, do you know what? I’ve done alright. Could things be better? Yep. But they could most certainly, most decidedly, most assuredly be worse. And they most definitely would be worse but for the indispensable, unflagging, unfailing support of my mom. I’m sure that, one day, your son will say the same of you.

    For all of the times I have felt (and still feel today) to ask the question, “Lord, why hast Thou dealt with me?” I cannot deny the times (again, though they may be fleeting, few-and-far-between, and infrequent, when the Lord has spoken peace to my very soul. Twice, I underwent major reconstructive surgery on my hip; twice, the post-operative course favored by that particular surgeon entailed being totally immobilized in plaster for weeks at a time; twice, he cut me out of casts which extended from the middle of my abdomen to the tips of my toes on one side and halfway down my leg on the other side; twice, he took x-rays; and twice, he attempted to explain to my parents that the procedure didn’t work and that the best course of action was for him to try it again, even though it had already failed, twice. We went doctor-shopping, only to find out that he had plenty of company in the orthopedic surgical community, all of whom recommended essentially that same thing. “Lord, why hast Thou dealt with me thus?”, indeed!

    Finally, we were referred to a brash, (then-)young, maverick orthopedic surgeon at the University of Utah who dared to buck this miserable status quo. While he made no guarantees, he recommended a different procedure and a potentially-different post-operative course, one which might involve my being allowed to recuperate in a wheelchair instead of having my entire lower body completely immobilized in plaster for weeks at a time. (A wheelchair might not seem like a barrel of laughs, but compared to the casts, it would be Pure Heaven!) He operated on me three more times in a span of eighteen months. On the first two of those occasions, whether I would be put into a cast or into a wheelchair depended on “what [he] found when [he] got in there.” On the third occasion, at first, he told me I would definitely be put into a cast. I thought, “Well, if nothing else, at least I know what to expect this time” … until the day of the surgery, when he finally hedged with his “It-depends-on-what-I-find-when-I-get-in-there” caveat.

    On three occasions, I vividly remember lying on an operating table praying fervently for a particular outcome. Indeed, I had done so in the months and weeks leading up to each operation. And on three occasions … good reason for pessimism, given the great weight of medical consensus which was against us, notwithstanding … I remember being absolutely assured in no uncertain terms that I would awake to realize the best possible outcome.

    And so, for all the reasons I feel to ask, “Lord, why hast Thou dealt with me thus?”, for the most part, I still don’t have any answers. The only answers I have are, “Ken, don’t forget when I spoke peace to your very soul on January 24 and February 14, 1984, and on June 7, 1985. Just lean on my ample arm, and, whatever it is, however big it is, however insurmountable it seems, however long and hard the road, just trust Me, and I’ll get you through it: I always have, and I always will.”

    Well, thanks for letting me drone on. ;-D Keep savoring those small-yet-not-so-small victories. Keep taking life one second, one minute, one hour, or one day at a time. Keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. Keep being unafraid to go at it again; or at least, go at it again, fear notwithstanding. As for me, I seem to invite life to pop me a good one by leading with my chin as I go through it, but as the Great Philosophers, Chumbawamba, sang so well, “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down!”

  • Abby Christianson

    Thank you for the encouragement. 🙂 You have made my day. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. The beauty of the soul is that it is great and noble even in the most hindered bodies. Yours is one of them. Have a wonderful day.