My seven-year-old son, Cody, was hospitalized in a residential psychiatric treatment facility for eight months. There were two months when his aggressive behavior was so severe it was determined he was not safe to come home for his bi-weekly weekend visits. We were left with ten minute phone calls each night, and two hour visits every other weekend. The unique bond that we had shared suffered tremendously. Cody refused to take my phone calls, and when I came to visit he was distant, not the loving, cuddly boy I knew. I believed because of his Asperger’s, I had just become a person who visited him, not someone he really knew and loved. He started to call me by my first name. I was no longer mommy.
Cody’s birthday was coming up, so I started reading “The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child” by Dawn Herring. Herring focuses on learning what is important to your child and what your child loves and making a beautiful birthday banner that celebrates your child using the things you’ve discovered. Displaying the banner on their birthday shows that you know who they are and you are listening. It is a keepsake for them, something they can look back on years from now and have a sense of who they have been and who they are now. I didn’t get a chance to make a birthday wall for Cody the way Herring suggested, but her book sparked an idea. Instead of making a birthday wall that Cody wouldn’t be able to display in the hospital, I decided to put it all into a binder with each page depicting a special time we had spent together over the last year or something special about him.
The day I brought him the binder, his entire face lit up. He went through each page and read all about himself and his family. It was the first time in months he spent the entire visitation with me. He was so proud of it that he walked around showing all the staff. It was a reminder to him that I loved him, that I was listening to him, and that I knew who he was. Our relationship changed after that. He started taking my phone calls again. He started to call me mommy again. He had something beautiful to look at every day that was all about him, but that also served to remind him of his family and the times we had spent together and how much we loved him. He still goes through the binder even though he is at home now. Each time he has the same reaction of pure joy.
I am so appreciative to Dawn Herring for creating such an amazing book that helps parents celebrate their children. I am so grateful that it had such a positive impact on my son when nothing else seemed to work. He needed me to SHOW him that I loved him because words were not enough.