Well it’s April 1st and that marks the first official day of autism awareness month!
Autism is something that I never knew existed until September 17, 2007 when my oldest child was diagnosed. My experience with the disability was watching Rainman. Period. Fast forward a decade and I am the proud momma of not one but three boys on the spectrum. And while I’m certainly not a bona fide expert, I’ve come a long way from that terrified mom in the doctors office with visions of Dustin Hoffman.
Now I’m only moderately terrified.
I think that being a parent, special needs or not, is one of the most terrifying things you can do. You create a human being and then have to set it free in the world while envisioning every horrible, dangerous thing that could possibly happen to them. Whether they are 4 or 44 I think as parents , we will always worry.
Autism has taught me so much. It has taught me to appreciate the little things and to approach parenting with a healthy sense of humor. It has taught me that its ok to feel like giving up sometimes. It has taught me that life can be unfair and that I’m stronger than I ever knew I could be. It has made me appreciate every accomplishment my kids have made, no matter how small. Knowing where they’ve been and how far they’ve come warms my heart in a way I never knew it could.
The autism life ain’t easy. It’s full of first/then concepts, stimming, IEP meetings, benchmarks, reinforcers, social stories and meltdowns. Sign lanuage, PECS and frustration. But underneath all of that mayhem is love and laughter. The occasional eye contact and the joy of watching your child be happy just being their true self.
There are ups and downs to autism, just like anything in life. As much as it hurts as a mom to see my children struggle, I love them for who they are and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Does that mean I’m glad they have autism? No. What it does mean is that I love them unconditionally and while autism doesn’t define them, it’s a part of who they are.
My hope for autism awareness month is that it does just that. Spreads awareness. For most people, if something doesn’t directly affect them, they don’t bother to learn about it. As an autism parent I can honestly say that I would much rather be asked a seemingly ignorant question than receive nasty glares and judgements from strangers that don’t know me or my kids. And trust me, most of us special needs parents are united on that one.