By Mary Latini
The first time I heard someone suggest putting my son in a home, I could not bear it. It was unthinkable. It came from a family member who was a seasoned social worker. She knew what was ahead. I guess I was naive. Kevin at the time was 5 years old.
Taking care of Kevin was a labor of love and it meant years of no privacy and no sleep. It meant not being able to work steadily and dedicating my life to changing diapers on a 14 year old, keeping up with prescriptions, refilling oxygen tanks, managing nursing staff, teachers and therapists. It meant driving him into Manhattan by myself and navigating through a New York sidewalk with an autistic kid and a toddler, because that’s where the best doctors for epilepsy were. It was my life. Again, not planned, but we do what we must when our heart is in the game.
Nevertheless the suggestion kept presenting itself. Kevin’s school district, as well as the care coordinator kept suggesting. Of course, there were no lack of people who decided to shame me for this. People who would compare us to another family with a “disabled” child and taut the virtues of keeping a family together and that Kevin is part of the family. Despite all of this I decided it would be okay to at least look, but I wasn’t obligated. I agreed to put Kevin on a list. The guilt was onerous. I had no intentions of letting him go.
One of the many things that comes with autism is the inability to regulate emotions. With Kevin not being able to effectively communicate his needs and now a teenager, with raging testosterone, this meant frequent violent outbursts. When he was younger it didn’t effect me physically as much as I was able to deflect his attacks on me without much effort. Now he could get a hold of me and punch, strangle, eye gauge and bite not just me, but his younger brother.
Then, one day, I got the news that a friend in the disabled community, a mom just like me, with a kid just like Kevin, was killed by her autistic son. He simply hit her over the head with a heavy object in her sleep.
Weeks later I was home with Kevin and his younger brother. This time Kevin had attacked me in such a way that he had bitten through and broken two fingers and was now going for my neck. My younger son, James, at ten years old had to call police because I could not defend myself and he could not help. It broke my heart. All at once I realized I needed to let go. All at once I realized I needed to think about staying alive. That woman who was killed by her son could have been me. I woke up.
It was not until 2 years later that Kevin was actually accepted into a residential school. He was rejected by 40 placements because he was considered too severe in too many areas. But I knew deep in my soul that it was what was best for the survival of what was left of our little family. It was was best for him to learn and grow in an environment designed to help kids “like Kevin.” It was a humbling decision that smashed my heart to pieces. I had to admit I could no longer care for my own little boo. I had to hand over my trust to complete strangers. But through it all I realized that all the hopeless diminished when I stopped and gave it to God. Letting go and letting God have Kevin in his hands took faith, true faith. All I needed to do when I didn’t know what else to do was to put my faith where it belonged.