Life doesn't always go as planned, but that doesn't mean we can't find joy in the unexpected. Thursday's Parent Program speaker Pricilla Gilman, author of the memoir, The Anti-Romantic Child, has made this her mantra. By age 31, she was a graduate of some of the nation's best schools, she and her husband were both working on their PhDs and teaching at the college-level, their 2-year-old son Benjamin was exceptionally intelligent, and they were expecting their second child. It appeared she was on a gilded path to career success and personal fulfillment.
When they applied Benjamin to preschool, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be admitted to the preschool of their choice. Yet the school called Ms. Gilman and her husband to say that they had concerns about Benjamin. While he could decode words on a page, he wasn't able to connect verbally with the people around him. He had severely delayed gross and fine motor skills. A Google search of these symptoms led to a devastating diagnosis—Hyperlexia. Years later he was also diagnosed with autism, and his younger brother James was diagnosed with dyslexia.
As Ms. Gilman tells it, she had been "jolted off her smooth forward trajectory," but she is grateful for the many ways in which being the mother of two special needs children has changed her life. She shared stories of seeking help from doctors, therapists, and teachers, to help her children become the best versions of themselves. And while she sought the advice of experts, she also relied on her own parenting instincts and understanding of her children. She learned to celebrate her sons' strengths, and to embrace those strengths to make progress in other areas.
Today, Benjamin is thriving as a student at Vassar College and James is in a high school where he feels both is accepted and supported.
Ms. Gilman's is a story of resilience, optimism, and love. While few of the parents in the audience are dealing with special needs of the scale and scope of Ms. Gilman, her story was still relatable. "We all get a child that is the opposite of what we were expecting," she told the audience. "My experience is just like everyone else's, but exaggerated."