My name is Angel, and this is my autistic confession.
I hate the Holland poem.
Do you know the one I’m talking about? Well, when I first started working with children with special needs, there was a poem that was often referenced by parents. You've probably heard it, as it can still be found on the websites of many organizations that are related to disabilities. In the poem, the unnamed person plans to go on a vacation to Italy, and they are looking forward to all of the great things they will get to do. Inexplicably the plane goes to Holland instead. The person is then stuck there, on a vacation that is not the one they wanted.
The poem goes on to say that there are some nice things about Holland, but it sure isn't Italy. The whole thing is meant to be a metaphor for parents of children with any sort of special need, neurodivergence, or disability. It tells parents, "You planned to have this beautiful, wonderful, normal child. What you got is this unexpected disabled child. Yes, there are some good things about having a disabled child. But it is not quite as good as having a nondisabled child, so you are allowed to be sad."
As an autistic adult, and as a person who works with kids with special needs, I've always disliked this poem.
You see, you don't get to "plan" your child. Unless you have access to some very advanced technology, you cannot plan for that perfect, beautiful, wonderful child. That child does not exist. They are a myth. Your airplane was never headed to Italy in the first place…. It was headed on a magical mystery tour.
Every single child is different. When you are expecting a baby, you might speculate, "He'll probably be tall like his father," or "I hope she likes sports so we can play basketball together." Or perhaps, "My first child was an early talker, so I'm hoping the new baby will be an early talker too." And then the child is born, and you're watching her develop… and she's small for her age, doesn't say her first word until she's nearly two, and prefers arts and crafts over sports. Do you mourn for that ghost child you dreamed about? Or do you just enjoy getting to know this very real child?
A former friend once speculated that my mother may have held me in her arms when I was a baby, and dreamed of me being a cheerleader and a Homecoming Queen someday. The friend. Used that it must have been disappointing for my mother to realize, as I got older, that I probably would not fulfill those dreams. At the time I felt such guilt and sadness. By being born autistic and having ADHD, I had stolen my mother's dreams of the perfect daughter. This guilt was supported by several commercials and advertisements put out by a certain organization at the time, claiming that autism stole children and destroyed families. Just by existing as myself, I had let my family down.
Years later, I now know that my mother's dreams for me did not include cheerleading or high school royalty. Even if she had dreamed of those things, the chance of any child becoming the specific person their parents hope for is very slim.
When a child is conceived, there are limitless possibilities for who they might be, and how their lives may go. The child may turn out to be autistic. They may have Down syndrome. They may get born with a cleft palate, or have all of their organs on the opposite side of their body from where they're usually found. They may turn out to be gay or transgender. They may be a natural-born swimmer, or they may be terrified of water. They may be very talented at playing the drums, and keep you up all night while they practice.
So if you are just getting off that metaphorical plane, and realizing you are not where you planned to be… don't resent the plane for bringing you to the wrong place. You were never even headed in that direction. Instead, start looking around at where you ended up. Look at the very real child you do have. What brings them the most joy? What about them makes you laugh, or beam with pride? What will they need your help or encouragement with? In what areas will you have to advocate for them, and teach them to advocate for themselves? What adventures await your family?
If you do find yourself mourning the child you thought you would have, take time to honor those feelings. But try to remember that the child in your mind was never real. You were never guaranteed a trip to the mythical Italy. Even if you had made it to Italy, chances are, the trip still would not have gone the way you planned it.
Instead, embrace the actual child you have now. See them, love them, and enjoy them for who they are. Help them live their lives to the fullest. Unlike the mythical perfect child, your beautifully unique child needs you!
About the author
I am an alien. I’ve been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, which explain some but not all aspects of my life. Maybe I really am from a different planet. Until that planet is discovered, I have to learn to survive here on Earth.