And the winner is ... A story of autism
By Lisa Smartt
Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 8:01 pm
I’d like to thank the many readers who offered their humor and insight for the first-ever “Help Lisa Smartt Write a Newspaper Column” contest! Your ideas sparked my imagination and often made me laugh out loud. If your entry has not yet found a place in one of my columns, please be patient. It may appear when you least expect it. Today I’d like to announce the winner of the contest. Truthfully, it wasn’t a difficult decision.
Brittany Laster of Troy was one of the first readers to enter the contest with her humorous column ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed her amusing entry ... but was much more intrigued by a brief bit of biographical information that she shared almost as an afterthought: “I am the mother of two boys. My oldest, Grant, has autism and has several therapies weekly. My youngest is Lucas. He is 2 1/2 and a redheaded handful.”
I immediately wrote back and asked her to share more about a mother’s view of autism. What she wrote was one of the most touching things I had ever read in my life. The column contest was over. Hands down, Brittany Laster won the contest ... with a subject she never even entered.
She described her son’s infancy: “He never played with toys. He never babbled (normally). He rarely slept. When he was a little baby, we would put him in the swing and have to buy batteries almost every day because it was the only place he was happy. He was never cuddly and would only sleep there. Then when he was about a year old and the swing broke, he started watching Barney and would watch it all night. I remember turning it on in the bedroom so I could sleep and he would watch it through his baby bed rails. When the tape went off, I would have to wake up every 100 minutes or so and rewind while he screamed. As soon as I could get it playing again he would instantly stop and watch quietly again. This went on for about a year. He was diagnosed at 20 months, Oct. 20, 2005. We had been doing early intervention because we knew he was behind. He was doing physical therapy and speech. My mother-in-law suggested it could be autism. I let it go for a while until I looked up autism a few months later and there it was ... my son. It was a sickening moment, I have to say.”
But the most amazing thing about Brittany’s story was her relentless attitude of appreciation and contentment as evidenced by her comments: “I cannot imagine my life without both of our boys. Grant (5-year-old autistic son) has taught me patience and unconditional love. He is my fresh air and Lucas (2 years old) is my sunshine. I am a very lucky person. I truly think that the bond Grant and I have goes beyond mother and son. I would not change a thing. He is the definition of innocence and love. It’s hard sometimes. I know a lot of people in our situation would not feel ‘lucky.’ We do for many reasons. We have a great little family out here in the country.”
Curious, I knew I had to meet the great little family in the country. I wasn’t disappointed. As I walked into their beautiful home, Grant came running into the living room. His dark hair was full of curls and his body was full of life. His little brother was indeed redheaded and feisty. Brittany and her husband, Ray, were warm and open. They were happy to share their story. Autism is a grave mystery. I don’t know what’s going on inside of Grant and children like him. No one really does. One thing I do know, the Lasters taught me to enjoy the precious gift of family. I will be forever grateful.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 3.4.09