I have yet to experience a moment as surreal as when you come face to face with your new child for the first time. In that moment, so many things pass through your mind. These thoughts can range from, “She looks just like her picture!” to “Oh my goodness, this child is a complete stranger to me. I thought I knew him, but I don’t--I don’t know what to do!” to “That cannot possibly be my child she is barely functioning. I think she is autistic. This isn’t what I signed up for. Can I run out of this building?”
We like the happy first meeting stories and videos; the ones where the new child falls into the new parent’s arms and everyone is happy, happy, happy. The hard reality is that very few first meetings go just like that. Nearly every first meeting involves some sort of panic on either the part of the child or the parent or both. It is a shock and how each of us deal with that shock can vary widely. Some children become manic, flapping and shrieking, or laughing uncontrollably. Some children wail as if their heart has been ripped out of their body and they will never be whole again. (Which is probably what it feels like to them, too.) Other children just shut down. They don’t look at anyone, they don’t speak, they don’t move. It is their way of coping. Even among the best prepared of children, this change in their circumstances can be difficult, but remember that some of these children were not prepared at all, and this is the first they are learning of their new life.