Beginning on Skyler’s first birthday, I started a tradition of writing a letter to him highlighting his likes, dislikes, achievements, funny moments, family adventures, playmates, and favorite television shows.  In addition, I take a photo of him wearing a necktie as a way of charting his growth.

My vision when creating and continuing this annual time capsule was to present to Skyler, a ribbon tied, stack of letters and photos containing eighteen years of memories on the day of his graduation from high school.

Coming to the realization, many years following his autism diagnosis, that graduation, in a traditional sense, would not be a likelihood for Skyler was hard.  However, it never derailed me from crafting those special birthday letters because I know one day in the future, I will share them with him.

Perhaps the silver lining or renewed perspective of Skyler not fleeing the nest this year like his peers is that I am privileged to share his daily experiences and accomplishments into adulthood.

I’m confident the day will come when Skyler communicates to me, on his own timeline, that he’s ready to receive my gift of thoughtfully crafted memories.  Watching Skyler read and absorb every word, whether he’s 24 or 44, will be the equivalent of a graduation to me – and I will be extremely proud.

So, on this eve of Skyler’s 18th birthday, I grabbed a few sheets of the special stationary that is only used to pen his letters and a full box of Kleenex while I revisited every achievement, new adventure and challenge he experienced this past year.

This is my 18th birthday letter to Skyler:

To my handsome and admirable son –

I honestly can’t believe I am writing my 18th birthday letter to you.  This past year has brought with it dramatic and unprecedented events both in our world and in your life.

It was around this time last year that the word Coronavirus became a part of everyone’s vocabulary.  Due to the severity and vast spreading, our daily routines and public gatherings came to a drastic and lengthy halt.

You were unable to return to your ABA center for almost two months, which was much milder than most of the population who were forced to learn from home for an entire year – causing a significant regression of many skills.

While at home, Josh and I were desperate to keep your communication moving forward, so void of any therapist assistance, I created a PECS board and eventually transitioned you to an AAC device to revisit that method with you.

You clearly appreciated having the ability to make choices for yourself through the pictures which was evident by your smile when we all seemed to understand each other.

For the first time in years, you appeared eager to share your thoughts, needs and wants with us, so when the concept of Spelling to Communicate was introduced to me, it seemed like divine timing.

Wow! I am SO glad we took that leap of faith and brought S2C into our lives.

Watching you utilize the letter boards to answer age-appropriate reading comprehension questions for the past eight months has been nothing short of incredible.

I frequently feel an overwhelming need to apologize to you, Skyler – for underestimating you and for my failure to recognize how intelligent you are and always have been.

From a health perspective, you have remained at a standstill.  Thankfully, you have always been healthy and are very rarely sick.  However, the hitting, banging and hair pulling seems to be on the increase instead of you aging out of those ‘stims’ as I’d hoped.

I’ve never been convinced that your challenging behaviors are “just part of having autism” as we’re so often told and given medications to treat.  I know deep in my heart that you’re demonstrating anger and suffering due to Ulcerative Colitis.  I promise you that I will never give up researching and looking for answers to improve your quality of life.  I pray every day that the solutions will come quickly so you will finally be relieved of your pain.

Despite your constant discomfort, your smile and deep belly laugh, especially when Josh wrestles with you, lights up the room.

If given the option, your daily meals would always include a Qdoba burrito bowl and Tucker’s bun-less cheeseburger with mashed potatoes in the rotation.

Watching Sesame Street, particularly Elmo’s World is still a favorite pastime of yours as is listening to an eclectic array of music.  During our countless car rides to nowhere, you bounce perfectly to the beat of any song and launch into a hardy giggle when I freestyle my own lyrics – which are usually about food or bath time.

As I reviewed the very first birthday letter, I wrote you in 2004, a particular statement really stuck out to me.  “My hope for you over the course of your life is that you continue to be happy and free spirited.  I want you to always try new things and never let anyone or anything stand in your way.  I love the light in your eyes that seeks out to learn and never quits even when times get frustrating.”

I didn’t know of your autism diagnosis on that day or even that year.

My greatest hope for you today is the exact same, 17 years later.  Please never lose that spark in your eyes and determination in your heart to keep growing and achieving.

I love you with all my heart Skyler, exactly as God made you.  I truly believe you were sent into this world as a vessel to teach me, and possibly everyone you encounter, some valuable life lessons.

I am forever grateful that I have been entrusted to guide and nurture you through this life.  You are perfect, just as you are.

As I’ve always said, “Out of all the little boys in the world, how did I get the very best one?”

Love you to the moon and back – Mom