Welcoming my son to Holland

When I learned my son might have lifelong learning disabilities, auditory processing problems, and behavioral challenges – I was devastated. Adam is 12 years old now, and I’ve spent the last 12 years researching interventions to mitigate the damages from his disability.

Or, you could say, I’ve spent the last 12 years learning the lay of the land in Holland.

You’ve probably heard of the essay called “Welcome to Holland.” It was written by Emily Kingsley, a writer for Sesame Street. Kingsley was instrumental in integrating characters with mental and physical disabilities into Sesame Street scripts — Easter Seals has awarded her three EDI (Equality, Dignity and Independence) awards and one Grand EDI for her work.

Kingsley wrote “Welcome to Holland” after her son Jason was born with Down syndrome. The piece compares raising a special needs child with traveling to an unexpected destination.

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip — to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans…

… the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

Although I never got to Italy as planned, I have had many fascinating experiences in Holland. I have learned to appreciate the very special — and unexpected — things Holland has to offer.

I have recently been selected to be part of Easter Seals Autism Spokesperson Network. As an Autism Spokesperson, I’ll be sharing Easter Seals messages about the importance of early diagnosis for individuals with autism, about the fact that autism is treatable and that people with autism can lead meaningful lives. I’ll be talking to the media about the urgent need for increased funding for services, especially for adults with autism.

As part of this exposure, I will be sharing my personal story to a much greater audience — much larger than those closest in my circle of support. I’ll be acknowledging to the world that our family lives deep in the heart of Holland.

My concern: my son still thinks he’s going to Italy. He has a hard time getting through the day in middle school worrying about who is going to think he’s different, or not smart, or weird.

And now, in sharing this story with you, I’m starting to wonder, is it time to tell him about Holland? And how?


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  1. karen miller Says:

    My son, Ty, comforted me with his own explanation. “You’d rather have a boring, normal child,” He would ask me. And when I thought about it and all the joys his life has brought me, no I wouldn’t rather have a boring, normal child. And I told him that if God lined up all the little boys in the world and told me to choose one, I’d still pick him. He is 20 now, and I’d still choose him.

  2. Patricia Wright Says:

    Rhonda- kudos to you for being a classroom teacher committed to her students. You have identified that this child has challenges, maybe its autism, maybe its another label – but you do know that he is in-need of some support. Most school districts have a process for referring children for an initial assessment/review. This assessment/review can determine if the child does have unique needs that would qualify them for special education services. The professionals involved in the referral process are often skilled in working with parents/care-providers who may be experiencing their own set of challenges. Common names for the referral process are Child Study teams or Student Study Teams. I would encourage you to check-out what resrouces might be avaialble within your local public school district.

    And – thanks for looking-out for your students. Educators are remarkable advocates!

  3. Rhonda Mitchell Says:

    hi, I am not a Dr, however..I feel strongly that there is a child in my room (age 4) that possibly has autism..I dont wont him slipping threw the cracks of out system, so I need advice on how to help him and what I can do..He is not in a very good home enviroment and I am very concerned for him..
    desperate to help
    prek teacher

  4. Kathy Patrick Says:

    Hi Wendy! Thanks for your great ideas~ KP

  5. Wendy Hof Says:

    Hi Kathy! One way to help your son celebrate his differences might be to recruit the help of his teacher and/or the school and see if there are 3-4 kids in/around his grade level that might like to do something fun with him after school .. shot some hoops, do an art project .. something that your son is interested in. My older son often volunteers after school to play basketball with a younger boy with downe syndrome. A teacher asks for volunteers and they get together after school and have fun and then take the late bus home. It’s a win/win for all involved .. especially if it is something your son enjoys doing… and it will broaden his circle of friends … Just a thought ..
    I look forward to hearing more of your and your son’s story and adventures.

  6. Debbie Smith Says:

    I think Holland is beautiful with a wonderful caring mother like you as the tour guide.
    I agree with Lisa…celebrate Adam and encourage Adam to celebrate himself.
    Take care, and I so enjoyed spending time with you and Helen last week!

  7. Lisa Tate Says:

    Hi Kathy!
    You just remind Adam that different is interesting and that his story, as well as his mother’s dedication to him and his special qualities, will be an inspiration to other young people around the world!

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