Autism. I never thought it was possible, but somehow, rather than fighting it, I have learned to welcome it. I have learned to know it. And I have even learned to embrace it. Here are 20 things I’ve learned since my son was diagnosed with autism.
1. A lack of sleep makes everything seem worse than it actually is.
2. It is possible for one person to talk for four hours straight about snakes, or aquariums, or cats. Trust me.
3. People can be really, really mean.
4. People can be really, really kind.
5. Just when I think I can’t do another day, my son does something amazing and changes my entire perspective.
6. Sometimes, doctors know exactly what we need. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, only go to a doctor who sees you as a valuable partner in your child’s health and progress.
7. My son’s abilities are far more impressive than I ever dreamed possible. I have been stunned more times than I can count. Like when I realized that he has, without even really trying, learned the scientific name for every single fish at the aquarium and every single plant at the gardens. It’s like glimpsing something sacred, something completely beyond me.
8. There is a reason for the behavior. There is always a reason for the behavior — and that reason has never once been to just annoy me.
9. Stimming is a thing. I had no idea.
10. Fixations serve a purpose. They are a valuable way for our children to connect with the world. And our kids are often wicked smart because of them.
11. Most of my grief is my own, not my son’s. Letting go of all the expectations I have about being his mother is one of the most difficult parts of all of this. My son does not share these expectations, not even a little. So the problem most often is me. Not him.
12. Pick your battles. I will say it again. Pick. Your. Battles. I try to just work on one thing at a time, until it is a habit, and then move on to the next. Trying to do all the things at the same time does not help anyone, and just causes stress for every single person in our house.
13. Being a student of my child has helped me learn more than any book, therapist, or website. Differences in brain function can be really hard to understand for the neurotypical momma. The more I pay attention to how my son thinks and responds, the more I begin to understand.
14. Autism makes my life weird sometimes. For example, I found myself in an aquarium store every single day last week. Every single day, for at least an hour a visit. It feels like a bizarre way to spend our time, but this is us, living our life well.
15. You will figure out the unique things that work for your child. Lycra sheets work for mine. A quiet space, with lots of blankets in the closet, works for another little girl I know. You will find things that help, even when it feels like nothing can.
16. You will never feel like you are doing it completely right.
17. You will have days when it feels completely natural.
18. Other mommas are like a fresh drink of water. Find them, either in person or online. Ask them questions. Let them assure you that you are not the only one.
19. Prayer is always answered. Maybe not in the way I thought it would be, but prayer is always answered.
20. The way you feel when you first hear the word “autism” associated with your baby is awful. But I have learned that there is good and bad, beauty and ugliness, joy and messiness — all wrapped up in that one little word.
If I have learned anything, it is to make peace with it. My son would not be my son without it. And I love my son. Exactly as he is — including the one little word that has completely changed our lives.