That one word, uttered by a white-coated doctor during the spring of 2007, was all it took to turn my life upside down. Since my son’s birth three and a half years previously, I had been lovingly crafting a picture of what my family life was going to look like. I had been dreaming about baseball practices, rowdy birthday parties, graduations, weddings.
Now, as the doctor spoke, my lovely picture was shattered, and all I could see in its place was devastation.
“George has limited capacity for learning,” said the doctor. “His speech is unlikely to develop any further. He won’t finish high school and he will always need complete care.”
As I sat there listening to him, I started to develop a headache. I realized that the pounding in my head was the sound of doors slamming shut. With a mixture of dread and desperate hope, I asked the doctor how certain his vision of George’s future was.
“He cannot even point to objects of interest,” the doctor reminded me gently. “That is the most basic communication tool, and without that to build on, nothing else is possible.”
Later that day, I sat on my couch in a fog, watching George examine a piece of string. He was vulnerable, beautiful, mine.
I took the unbearable anguish with me into the shower, and as the water ran over my body, I cried great big gut-wrenching sobs. By the time I had towelled off and got dressed, I had stopped crying and I had made a decision.
I was not going to let the words of some doctor limit my son’s potential. I didn’t know what George would ultimately be capable of, but I did know that if I didn’t even try, nothing would be possible.
So he couldn’t point. If pointing was such an important skill, I would teach him.
That night, I sat in my bed with George snuggled up against me and a Bob The Builder book open in my lap. It was the only story that he had ever shown any interest in. He gazed into the book, but I had no way of knowing what, if anything, he was registering.
“Point to Bob the Builder,” I said.
There was nothing – no sound, no motion, no reaction at all.
“Point to Bob the Builder,” I repeated softly.
Still there was nothing. As gently as I could, I picked up his hand with both of mine and formed his pudgy little fingers into the shape of a point. I moved his hand to the page and made his index finger touch the picture of Bob. I enthusiastically praised him for a job well done.
We did the same thing the following night, and the night after that, and the night after that. Time passed, birthdays were celebrated, seasons came and went. At times, the temptation to give up was almost overwhelming.
If you give up now, you’ll never know if it would have happened tomorrow, next week or next month, said an insistent little voice in my head.
One evening, when this had been going on for about nine months, I wearily settled onto my bed with George and Bob the Builder. I was exhausted and discouraged, and I had spent most of the day fighting tears.
I opened the book to a random page.
“Point to Farmer Pickles,” I said half-heartedly.
When I saw George lift his hand, my breath caught in my throat. I watched transfixed as he slowly curled his fingers and extended his index finger. He stared at his hand as if it was an alien being, and then, slowly and tentatively – almost shyly – he touched the tip of his index finger to the picture of Farmer Pickles.
Time stood still as I registered the fact that my son had just pointed for the first time. I stared at him in wonder, and then, as if I was in a dream, I turned the page.
“George, point to Lofty,” I said. My voice was shaking.
With less hesitation and more certainty, George stuck out his finger and touched the picture of Lofty. I sat for a moment, immobilised by disbelief, then I jumped off the bed and ran to my husband.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, startled by the tears streaming down my face.
“George puh-puh-pointed!” I sobbed. I turned around and ran back to my son.
I scooped him up off the bed and danced around the house with him. As I twirled with him in my arms, I saw a world of possibilities. For the first time since that bleak doctor’s visit nine months previously, I saw the potential in my son, just waiting to be let out. All I had to do was never give up.