The funny thing with before and after photos, is that rarely do you see what goes on in between the photos. All the hard work, all the sacrifices, all the changes, go undocumented, because people only want to see the end result. When trying to get into bikini season shape, people don't want to see you sweating it out at Zumba or watch the horrific faces you make when you try to convince yourself that kale and radish protein shakes tastes great (maybe if you add an Oreo, or two, they would). There are no photos of when you stumble and eat three fist fulls of M&M's instead of three fist fulls of almonds. There are not FB Status Updates when you decide to watch 3 hours of Mad Men on your couch while sipping a glass (or two) of wine, instead of chugging a bottle of water while jogging on the treadmill at the gym. Nope, there are no in between photos, just the before and after images. The hardest part, remains unseen.
I did not take photos of Ryan greeting someone and making eye contact with them thanks to the countless hours of therapy that helped Ryan understand the importance of looking someone in the eye even though today it still feels terribly uncomfortable for him.
I did not snap a pic when Ryan was finally able to drink out of a different cup, use a different plate, or sit at a different seat without a 10 minute meltdown. I did not document the hours of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills groups, all places where Ryan worked so hard before, in order to get to the after. There were monumental steps forward and often, just as many steps back, but, rarely are those moments documented.
Today, haircuts are no longer an issue, but, touching paper is. The sounds of a car horn no longer bothers Ryan, but, the smoke alarm battery dying freaks him out. Dress shirts and ties can be worn, but, not for long. Ryan may try new food, but, only if it's something sweet. So much has gone on in between, before and after, that occasionally the images have blurred. Today, without a doubt, what I see Ryan struggle with the most, what he spends the most time working on, is understanding and accepting The A Word and how that makes him feel. Yeah, that old song and dance, I am familiar with.
Before autism, I spent so much time researching the internet, observing Ryan's every move and wringing my hands raw with worry. After autism, the worry and the wringing intensified with every horrible "What if?" case scenario. Before, I wasted so much precious time, time that once stood right in front of me, that after I let it slip away, I recognized too late, that it was gone.
That wonderful, intelligent, they didn't give her a PhD for nothing, psychologist really was right. My beautiful boy was right there in front of me before I stepped foot into her office door and heard The A Word, and that very same boy was waiting for me after I walked out her door. He had not changed. I don't have the photo to prove it, but, trust me, I know. I hate that it took me years before I realized what I was missing, but, I am so grateful that after I figured it out, I haven't missed a moment of now.
So, while trolling on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, keep in mind that the folks working so hard for their summer bodies, posting their before and after pics, may not show you all the hard work that goes on in between those photos, but, change does not happen easily. Perhaps psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, etc who must look a parent in the eye and utter, the words, "Your child has autism" should take a before and after autism CT scan of the parent's heart. A before and after photo, if you will.
If Ryan's psychologist had offered a heart CT scan to check on the before and after autism status of my heart, being the hypochondriac that I am, I would have totally gone for it. The image may have shown that before autism, my heart seemed perfectly intact (albeit a bit strained), but, overall, my heart would not have so much as skipped a beat, However, after autism, the image would have shown a tiny tear, or perhaps a discolored bruise of sorts, that made my heart ache for a bit. So consumed with the changes in my before and after autism heart photos, I still would not have heard a word the psychologist said about Ryan being "the same little boy he was before". In time though, when I was finally ready, I would be able to see that the before and after images of my heart had become blurred, the changes would no longer be discernible. Without even being made aware, time, acceptance and hard work, made my heart heal after autism, and now, this mother's heart beats stronger than ever before.