Above: Lyra Thomson-Hollingsworth photographed at her Arouca home. Make-up by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay.
As the only child to a single mother, I was always inspired to become a mother because of the heroic demonstration of motherhood shown to me as a child by my mother. While we were part of a wider support system, we were not entirely shielded from the economic hardships of the 80s and early 90s. My mom made sacrifices and taught me life lessons that are precious to me and these have moulded me into the resilient woman I am today.
My journey to becoming a mother was not an easy one, and certainly my journey as a mother is a new adventure every day. After suffering two miscarriages, I became a mother of three in the space of four years. All delivered via C-Section. It all happened so quickly, everything in my household became like an assembly line! In fact, my first two children, Tsian-Li and Iohannes are only fifteen months apart.
As crazy as things were at times, I kept my eye on their milestones. I was never fully satisfied with the rate at which these were being achieved. But I continued to do what any normal parent would do and try to engage, play, research. The word Autism popped up sometimes.
I would try to convince myself that it was just a delay; that children achieve their milestones at different times, the race is not for the swift, early childhood development has a wide age-range. I said everything to myself in order to convince myself that Autism would not become a part of my daily reality.
But during this time, I would see my babies shy away from people and other children, struggle with communication and speech, their motor skills, their socialization, all the while thinking that it will all fall into place in time.
When my daughter was three years old and my son turned two, I discovered that I was again pregnant. Completely unexpected and caught off-guard, I was overwhelmed. Already in my late thirties, in a struggling marriage that eventually failed, I kept wondering how was I going to manage, as I had been grappling with mothering these two tiny people and seemed to be not too good at it.
The inadequacy I felt, I couldn’t fully articulate then, as I had no time to reflect, just time to be a mother to a new pre-schooler, a toddler and waddle around with a belly bump.
That was when I got “the call” from the pre-school. My children were not progressing with the rest of their age cohort.
As painful as that parent/director conference was, I would be eternally grateful to Little Feet Early Childhood Centre, St. Augustine, for their observation, diligence and recommendation for therapeutic intervention at the Therapeutic Workshoppe. Both children were held back, and I cringed and cried.
And I have been cringing and crying ever since, every time I have to engage any educational institution when it comes to my two elder children. A year later, I was told that the school may not be the best place for my son, whose developmental delays were more profound than my daughter’s. I could not bear the thought of him starting over, when building relationships and getting accustomed his physical environment already takes a long time.
I asked for the school to find additional resources to teach and work with my son and they did. And from that day this pre-school has always been a tremendous source of support because it recognizes parents who are willing to stand as advocates on behalf of their little ones.
Therapeutic interventions continued for both children, speech and occupational therapy, and all the while monitoring the little one in my arms. My daughter graduated pre-school and headed off to primary school in the public school system; one which is entirely unprepared and under-resourced in order to accommodate anyone who isn’t neuro-typical.
She struggled socially and behaviourally for two academic years. Thank God for small mercies, her academic results did not suffer as a result. Several consultations and many tears later, she was assigned an aide from the Ministry of Education.
An answered prayer! Meanwhile a small school opened up, The Learners’ Sanctuary, which was founded by my son’s OT, after she acknowledged that many of her clients were approaching primary school age, and there being few affordable options available in East Trinidad. At this school, my son is realizing his potential, he is growing in confidence and meeting milestones; delayed, but meeting them.
Getting their diagnoses at the Mt. Hope Child Development Clinic was just a formality, but an important step as this diagnosis would be the stepping stone to accessing therapeutic and educational resources later on.
My beautiful children are now nine, eight and five (typically-developing) and as a single mother of two Autistics, it is a lot.
A lot of worrying. Will my children grow into self-sustaining, independent, productive and beautiful humans?
A lot of work. School and therapy drop offs, school conferences, homework, housework, my own professional career.
A lot of money. School fees, therapy fees.
A lot of tears. Who said that I was strong enough for this? Why can’t my kids behave at Church? I didn’t plan on getting divorced!
A lot to be grateful for. An amazing mom who has never stopped supporting me in every possible way. Wonderful friends who keep me laughing and also on my toes. Understanding parishoners and the Bethesda Community – A ministry of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, offering sensory-friendly Masses and sacramental initiation for children with intellectual disabilities. My “ball of fireworks” little Zidan who helps to keep everything in balance.
A lot of joy. Every smile, every milestone. Hugs and kisses. Our sunset dance ritual, watching them while they sleep and thinking where did all those years go.
Physical, emotional, financial, mental and spiritual strength is what it takes. This journey is not for the faint of heart. But where we are weak, He is strong. His strength is perfect and in the end, He’s all that I need. So I seek Him first, and somehow everything is falling into place, as every trial has been met with a triumph.
For every shed tear, I have had three times as much belly laughs. He’s not finished with me yet, and even as His work is not yet been brought to completion in me, I will continue give Him the glory, honour and praise.
Sponsors: Dale McLeod, Jacqueline Scott, Starlite Collection, Sacha Makeup, JB Fernandez Memorial Trust II.