All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost-J.R.R Tolkien
Miles Garcia Jackson blessed this world on a cool winter’s day. I knew from the moment he was born that he was special. Just how special remained to be seen. He was born with 2 teeth and older nurses and hospital workers stopped by my room just to lay a hand on him. “He’s lucky ma’am,” they’d tell me, eager to get close to him. To date, he still has a supernatural charm and magnetism.
Because my eldest son, Lane, was born 8 weeks early due to a head-on collision with a very drunk driver, I was well-versed in the development of babies. I was already armed with as much knowledge as I could possibly get my hands on, and very early on I knew that something was different about Miles: something other than the luck bestowed by his teeth. I was single by this time, my eldest and his father having moved to Florida, while Miles and I were in Alabama. I did not have much familial help in the area, so I was left to books and doctors for questions and advice. I am Miles’ only parent. A common phrase that came from doctors: he’s just a boy. But I knew that there was more, as mothers often do: subtle nuances that only a hyper-vigilant mother would notice.
He did not babble or coo. He uttered not one sound, but his frustration with wanting to communicate and not being able to was evident. So, I bought a book on sign language, and he and I communicated on a very basic, rudimentary level through signing. At 18 months, after having been sick with sinusitis for 6 months, baby Miles had his tonsils and adenoids removed, nasal passages scraped and tubes inserted into his ears to aid with drainage. Much to my chagrin, upon awakening from his surgery, I learned that he reacts very badly to opioids. In fact, more often than not, he reacts contrary to medications and their intended uses. So an outpatient procedure turned into a week-long hospital stay. All this happening while I was working 3 part-time jobs and enrolled at Troy University full-time. I also volunteered helping drug addicts and alcoholics, and attended church regularly. While Miles may have supernatural charm, I have been armed with supernatural perseverance and strength, with just a smidge of bullheadedness: just a smidge.
As Miles’ behaviors and idiosyncrasies got worse and more inexplicable, I realized that we would never get the kind of care for him that I insisted upon. Dothan, Alabama is not the medical hub that I needed. While I may be poor and single, my children will never go without. So upon graduating Troy with a B.S. in Biology, he and I packed up and moved to Chicago, seeking medical answers and better job opportunities related to by brand-new college degree. I am the first college graduate in my family, on either side, of any generation.
An awesome, Biology-related job I did not find, but medical answers we eventually did. He was a patient of a very knowledgeable and prudent doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital, a teaching hospital, in the City of Chicago. Once per month, I took off work and drove to the city. While it was frustrating to have such a cautious doctor, one not eager to medicate or diagnose, I am very grateful for her care. By this time, I was back to my old shenanigans, trying to further us monetarily, not realizing the valuable time I was missing with my son. I worked 50 hours per week at a greenhouse, waited tables at night 30 hours per week and was in graduate school full-time at the University of Illinois. I missed the signs of my son’s deteriorating mental stability. In the Spring of 2011, the light of my life was admitted into a pediatric psychiatric facility, fully psychotic. Only by the grace of God did I make it through those 2 weeks. I quit my jobs and school immediately. None of that mattered. It never did, and unfortunately, it took this to wake me up. I try to tell people now, ‘Don’t sacrifice time with the ones you love and the ones that need you! None of it matters!’, but that is a lesson one must learn for oneself. Upon discharge, we were finally armed with a diagnosis: Early Onset Bipolar I with Psychosis. Instead of still trying to stay afloat in that sea of uncertainty, we finally had a place we could start. I was given a job at a casino by a very trusted friend from church, but the circumstances were still the same. I had a morning babysitter, an afternoon babysitter and a weekend babysitter. I couldn’t do it anymore. I moved home, to Georgia, with the high hopes of familial help.
I could go on and on about hospital stays and visits and therapies and specialists and books and google searches; tears, prayers, curses and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that I cannot love my child better. But all of this seems to come with most autism packages. Suffice it to say that he is currently under the care of a pediatrician, psychiatrist, neurologist, gastroenterologist and hematologist. None of these specialists practice in Americus, Georgia. We finally got an Asperger’s diagnosis 1 week before his 8th birthday. Of course this is something I feared all along, but never wanted to speak in existence. While Miles hasn’t been psychotic in years, and now the 3 psychotic episodes can be firmly attributed to his reaction to the medication he was on at the time, since insurance in Georgia did not cover Autism Spectrum Disorder, we held on to the Bipolar diagnosis to be able to get healthcare coverage. As of last month, insurance in Georgia has to cover Autism related services.
In June 2012, while hugging a friend’s dog, Miles’ face was bitten by this 200 pound Rottweiler. The dog was not a vicious dog, and I witnessed the entire tragedy, but everyday dogs don’t understand Miles’ inability to comprehend personal space. Everyday dogs are still everyday dogs. Nonetheless, Miles had to have his beautiful face sewn back together. By nothing short of a miracle, a plastic surgeon was on-call at Tift Regional Hospital that night. He did a beautiful job. A five hour job. Said dog now lives in heaven with Jesus. I packed his bags for him.
While lying in bed one night, lamenting on Miles’ lack of fear of dogs, and incessantly Googling, as we special needs parents do, I came upon 4 Paws for Ability’s website. I’d never heard of a service dog trained for kids, much less a service dog trained for my particular brand of kid. What a concept! An animal trained for Miles’ inability to respect personal space. An animal trained in so, so much more: tethering, for when he elopes or bolts because of stress or anxiety or sensory overload or just impulse because he sees something across the street that catches his attention; calming, for when Miles is having or about to have a meltdown because something is wrong, but he can’t say what. While Miles is very verbal, being verbal and effectively communicating are not the same. A dog trained in behavior disruption, to disrupt behavior such as pulling his hair out while under stress of school testing; a dog trained in tracking, because more than a few times, Miles has wandered, and in the blink of an eye, has been in a neighbor’s house, sitting on the sofa, discussing Lord of the Rings. Luckily, I have great neighbors. Miles has also jumped in 2 ponds and a pool, wanting to swim in the dead of winter. This is not uncommon for Autistic children. The dog will also alert me when Miles gets up at night. Because after a long night of Miles’ migraines and several trips to the ER, but before having to be at work for an 8 hour training class, I was passed out, exhausted, and Miles was outside at 7 AM, playing ninjas, in the yard, with no clothes on, in January. He and I have lived alone his entire life. I need another set of eyes.
I applied for the dog in the Spring of 2013. The amount required of parents to fundraise (at that time) was $13,000. There’s not much difference in the dog fee and my annual salary. Every penny that comes into our house is made by my own two hands. I didn’t bat an eye. I’d never done any fundraising before, and Miles and I were complete hermits by this time, trapped from participating in overwhelming public situations, but I didn’t care. He was immediately approved for a Multi-purpose Assistance Dog. I began fundraising in August of 2013, and had raised over $13,000 by April 2014. In 9 months, this single, working mother, with a lot of help from friends, this awesome community and a few beloved family members, raised the money.
It’s nearing time to pick up our pooch, our life-changing and lifesaving companion, and quite frankly, we need a ride. In October, Miles, myself and my aunt (a second adult is required for training) will be traveling to Xenia, Ohio to train with and pick up our greatly anticipated Service Dog. While we’ve done more fundraising for the 2 week trip, we are lacking that last little bit. Because my God works miracles, we were somehow referred to Ady’s Army. Brian and Chrissy have been phenomenal in their help and work already, and we just met. With your help, I will have one less thing to fret and cry over: we will be able to fly to Ohio, have transportation and accommodations while there, and be able to fully focus on why we’re there: to learn how to operate this super-special dog. All donations are greatly appreciated. Miles wants to graduate high school and be a Military Policeman, complete with a wife and 2 children (that I am already slated to babysit). He loves the Grateful Dead and Tears for Fears. In his spare time, he keeps my yard safe from Orcs. I’ll leave you with Miles’ bible verse, given him upon his dedication to Christ in 2009:
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor daemons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This momma is convinced that neither symptoms nor diagnoses, neither ignorance nor apathy, neither bullies nor lack of funds will separate Miles Garcia Jackson from everything that every little boy needs and deserves.
Magic Miles and his momma are Ever Grateful.
August 9, 2015