By George Stewart
September 16, 2010 was one of the happiest days of my life. It was the day that my son Landon was born. Before Landon, my wife and I lost three children, each just a few weeks into my wife’s pregnancies. Doctors said that if Landon could make it to 24 weeks, he would have a chance at life. In order for Landon to make it to 24 weeks, my wife would have to undergo a surgical procedure; the same procedure done when we lost our second child. So with losing three children, a 24-week hump we had to get over, and the uncertainty that this surgical procedure would even work, you can imagine how nervous my wife and I were throughout this pregnancy. But on September 16, 2010, after being in the womb for 38 weeks, my son had arrived.
Within Landon’s first few months leading up to his first year of life, my wife and I noticed that Landon was not exhibiting “normal” baby behavior. The first thing we noticed was his inability to make eye contact. Another thing my wife and I noticed was his lack of interest in things that babies are typically interested in, such as appropriately playing with toys and playing with other children. The biggest thing my wife and I noticed in Landon was by the time he turned a year old, he was not speaking and was not showing any signs of even trying to speak. With us both being educators, we knew something was not right. So after researching autism and discussing it, we decided to have Landon tested. This would prove to be a very good decision.
After going through various tests, my son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. For those who don’t know, autism is basically a developmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. As parents, you never want to receive this kind of news about your child, especially knowing that there is NO cure for autism. The first thing that you think about is your child and the difficulty he/she will have, as he/she ventures through life. As a father, you wonder if your son will ever have a chance to play sports or be able to effectively engage in “guy talk.” The silver lining in my son’s diagnosis is that it was detected early, which is very beneficial for the child.
Not too long after my son’s diagnosis my wife and I made a very bold move. We moved from the economically rich city of Houston, Texas, back home to the economically strapped state of Mississippi—a move that we thought was in the best interest of Landon. The support that Landon receives from family is truly a blessing, and to see him interact with his cousins and show affection to not only his mom and me, but to his grandparents, aunts, and uncles is enough to bring tears to my eyes. And with the services that Landon is receiving here, he keeps getting better.
So how is Landon today? He’s progressing. He’s 4 years old and still not talking, but every now and then he shows signs that he’s trying to. He still has crying fits and makes noises that attract strange looks when we are out in public, but not as often as before. His sleeping has gotten better, his eye contact is amazing, and he is showing slow but steady progress in school. Oh! And he has a little sister, who is also helping him with his development.
Despite the many limitations that Landon has, he has a purpose. He has moved me from a “Why My Son?” father to an inspired father, by watching his son move through life with a huge smile on his face. He’s taught me how to love on a whole new level, and I would trade places with him in a heartbeat just to see the world as he sees it.
But most importantly, my faith has grown immensely just by watching what God is doing in his life. Landon’s impact moves beyond me. Anyone who gets to know Landon falls in love with him. You get the feeling of being a better you from your interaction with him. What’s awesome is he’s only scratched the surface of the impact he will have on this world. His story has just begun, and I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to be right by his side, like the proud father I am, watching it unfold.
George Stewart II is an educator, author, youth advocate, licensed Baptist minister, and speaker who has dedicated his life to the academic, social, emotional, and spiritual development of his family and the community at large.