As a dentist, I was taught to look into the eyes of my patients to be sure they were not experiencing any discomfort (okay, pain) as a result of whatever procedure was being done. While still in dental school I opted to work with children with special needs – and noticed, while working on their teeth, how absolutely beautiful their eyes were – not the color, nor that they couldn’t focus – it was “that look” – communicating distantly with their eyes.
In the early years of our marriage and practicing dentistry, I worked in a few nursing homes whose residents were children with special needs. Drooling patients with flailing arms, squealing with uncontrolled emotion, was very sobering. It was challenging from a dental perspective as well as an emotional perspective, and it made me thankful to come home where things were calm and “normal.”
When our son Joey was born he seemed quite “normal”, until one night, as I was caring for him, that I scooped him out of his crib like I’d made a great football catch and took him into the family room to play on the floor for a bit. As I rolled Joey gently back and forth, even rolling a ball to him, attempting “catch” with my infant son, I caught a glimpse of Joey’s eyes that took me back to some previous patients. I knew “that look”. I picked Joey up and held him close, saying, “Oh God, not my son!”
What I knew that night, Cindi was not yet seeing. She noticed that Joey wasn’t doing the things others his age were doing, but the doctors assured us he’d catch up. The truth was this: instead of catching up, the gap would keep getting bigger in what he could do and what he should have been able to do.
A dear friend, whose son was a little younger than Joey, but running circles around him, shared her concerns – in such a loving manner that it prompted us to begin asking some difficult questions of the doctor and pursue testing.
Sometimes we want to deny what we see. We want to close our eyes, and pretend what’s happening isn’t. We want to turn our heads the other way. But denial won’t get the help needed. We need to open our eyes, and move forward – accepting what we are seeing, taking necessary steps to seek doctors and a diagnosis – getting the help that will allow our child to learn all they can – the earlier the recognition and acceptance, the better chances the child will have to gain the kinds of skills they’ll need to make it in this world.
We’ve been on this journey for over 31years and had many opportunities to look into the eyes of parents and children. What is very difficult and challenging in the early years, can indeed become a great blessing later on. Today, if we were asked to if we’d take this journey again, I know we’d raise our hands and say, “Yes, INDEED: the ‘eyes’ have it!”