April is Autism Awareness Month and I’ll be honest: I have mixed feelings about it. I get frustrated by autism awareness movements in general because I feel like so many people just don’t care. I also feel aggravated with the direction of most autism research and what is happening in the autism world in general. That, however, is a topic for another day and I don’t want to dwell on the negative here.
I have a little boy who was diagnosed with autism two and a half years ago. I remember that day as if I had just lived it. It was very surreal. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel and I felt pretty lost and confused. That feeling stuck with me longer than I would have liked. If you’re in a similar situation now, my heart goes out to you! Now, two and a half years later, things are much different. I wish I could go back in time and comfort the lost mommy I was back then. But since time travel is not yet possible, I will just share my thoughts in this venue. Knowing what I know now, here is what I would tell myself the day my son was diagnosed:
- You won’t let autism define your son. My son is so much more than that label. He has shown me that time and time again. He struggles with some things but he has many strengths as well. He has weak points and strong points, just like everyone else. And, just like everyone else, he wants to be treated like a person. Not like a label.
- You won’t focus on the things he “can’t” do. I admit, I did get caught up in the “Your son can’t…” lie for a little bit. But luckily I snapped out of it. My boy does so many things that he “shouldn’t” do. He makes friends (quite easily, I might add). He carries on conversations. He loves to pretend play. He is an ideal big brother, caring, helpful, gentle, and kind. Are there struggles? Yes. Does he need accommodations? Sometimes. But holy smokes. This kid never stops surprising me with all the stuff he can do.
- You will question and think critically about the things you’re told. When my son was diagnosed, I was told he had a purely genetic problem and nothing could be done about it. But I questioned that and began doing research. I was lucky to stumble across some answers that really fit. And we started treating the whole person. When we got the diagnosis, my son could barely say a handful of words. Six months later, he was talking in full sentences. Is he “cured”? No. But again, holy smokes. I’m sometimes still amazed at how far he’s come.
- When days are bad, it means that others will be good. We’ve had some really, really bad days. But we’ve had some really, really awesome ones too. Autism is a lot like a roller coaster in that way. My son often starts having issues right before he takes a big developmental leap. He also regresses when he gets sick. Early on, these dips used to send me into a tailspin of panic. But I’ve learned to panic less. Bad days just mean that good days are ahead somewhere.
- Your son will become your hero. It’s true. Today my hero is a five year old boy. I admire so much about this little guy. He wakes up early every morning so that he can do therapy before he heads off to school. He most certainly works harder than I did at his age! He is one of the kindest and most polite children I know and he engages in the social niceties a lot better than many neurotypical children I’ve observed. Again, probably more than I did when I was his age. He loves everyone. He lives life with gusto. And he does all this in a world that makes things difficult for him. I adore my little man. He is my hero. And if your child has just been diagnosed with autism, don’t worry. He (or she) will be yours too.