If I Could Go Back to the Day I Heard He Was Developmentally Delayed, I’d Remind Myself of This

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He smiles. Every day.

If I could go back to the day I heard, “your son is developmentally delayed; he may have autism,” I would tell myself that he smiles… every day. He’s happy. He’s so smart, and he loves. He may be delayed, but he’s progressing. I would tell myself all the positive things he’s doing and that he’s going to do. I would tell myself to try and not stress because in the end, it makes it so much worse. I’d tell myself it could be worse. You’ve got this. You’ve already done this. You can do this.

You see, my son just had his 3rd birthday. He’s seen a pediatric special needs team: occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, psychologist, ears nose and throat specialist, audiologist, pediatrician, neurologist and geneticist. He’s had an EKG, sweat tests, genetic testing and he’s on a waiting list for an MRI. He didn’t walk until he was 2, and he often struggles to keep his balance or run. He’s just learning to talk.

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But the part that matters is he smiles, laughs and loves — every day.  He looks me in the eye and says “Wu you” for “love you.” He doesn’t do things quite as fast as his peers, but with lots of help, he’s doing better. He knows he’s loved, and we’ve taught him to love back. That’s all I need. They say my son is special and nice. They have no idea just how true that is.

I know as he grows, things are going to be hard for him and for us. I cannot see what’s in store for him, but I know he’ll be taken care of. I won’t let the unknown hold us back.

Recently my son was having a bad morning, and going into daycare was looking like it was going to be awful. The tears and the clinging was starting. All of a sudden a little friend of his, who could see him crying, came over and held out his hand. That was all Ethan needed. A small gesture by a sweet 2-year-old boy. Off he went happy as can be. Made my morning.

I quit asking why I was given all this, and I’ve accepted that my son has made me worthy of looking after him. Nobody’s perfect. That’s the bottom line. Everyone has their struggles.

This whole journey with Ethan, and with my oldest son, Jack, has reminded me that this life was never ours to plan from the start. Everything is going to be OK. Because I have him, and he has me. I am his momma; my life is dedicated to making sure he thrives. My 3-year-old child is a gift; he’s beautiful, happy, full of life and fun to be around. And he smiles. Every day. That’s all I need to remind myself.

The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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What Horses Taught Me About My Disability

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I grew up in a stable home with loving parents.

The one thing they couldn’t love away is my cerebral palsy, which mostly affects my fine motor skills, coordination, balance and movement. Failure has been a part of my life since I was a child. I had to go to therapy to learn how to skip, run and even put my hair in a ponytail. Life became about rising up from failure, adapting and getting back on the horse (no pun intended). I became resilient to obstacles in front of me even though I severely lacked the confidence that I exuded. I always needed help to do simple things that, in my mind, any “normal” person could do with ease. As I grew older and started to babysit, I came to the point of being fearful of being a mother. I can never hold a baby and feed them. What if my baby needs something and I can’t physically help them? What if I hurt or drop my baby? That fear turned into acceptance that I would never be a mother because I physically couldn’t. That was one obstacle I thought I couldn’t overcome. That fear has stayed with me until a few weeks ago.

I met Rebecca in early October 2014 when she started coming to our church’s 20’s group. She immediately introduced me to Stable Moments, a program that helps foster and adopted children heal and build dependable relationships through horses. I’d always loved horses and had done a good amount of riding and hippotherapy (therapy for special needs children on horses), so I wanted to know more. But, like most 23-year-olds, I had a nine-to-five job that didn’t allow much time for going to the barn for hours on end. I thought it would stay a distant image that would never mature into more.

My life turned upside down when I lost my job in October. Did they downsize? No. It was my fault I lost my job. I was now a failure. I was a young woman with cerebral palsy, fearful of her future, unable to adapt or “get back on the horse.”

I began to believe all the lies that I was a terrible person who wouldn’t find another job. At our 20’s Halloween party, Rebecca casually mentioned that if I had time I should come to the barn to ride and learn more about Stable Moments.

The first day I came, Rebecca had to do everything for me. I felt so unstable on Jesse (the horse) that I began to feel like a failure again. I felt like an utter fool when Rebecca trotted and I had to watch. I couldn’t trot, and that saddened me to the point where I cried all the way home. I was so frustrated that I was unemployed, that my cerebral palsy got in the way of everything, and that I needed help with everything.

I loved the barn, the horses and Rebecca, so I made Tuesday my day to go to the barn and have a small respite from life. At the barn I didn’t have to think about the next interview, or the company that had rejected me, or the other company that never responded back. All I had to focus on was riding, the smell of the horses and the feeling of purpose I had with Jesse. As I kept going, guess what happened? I got better. I remember the day when I felt like I was ready to trot. I was scared. What if I fell? That would be embarrassing, and it would hurt. I decided to try and I was able to trot and post. I was elated that day and texted Rebecca, “I feel so confident in myself!” This got me thinking, if I did more than I ever thought I could with riding, couldn’t I do the same with motherhood? What the riding had instilled in me was confidence and strength, both mentally and physically, in myself. I knew where I came from — being able to do nothing to being able to do everything. I also learned it’s OK to take it slow; the first day I wanted to do everything because I thought I was a failure if I didn’t. Now I know that it’s the journey that makes me who I am. If I never went through the journey I would never be as strong or as able. It takes time to become confident and trust my abilities and myself.

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I can now say happily that I’m employed but am building time to ride and to be a volunteer for Stable Moments. This is a time that I will always cherish, but I also look forward to my first day of work. My work is a blessing in many ways. Financially, it’s afforded me to support a Stable Moments horse for a year, so the children in the program can hopefully learn what I’ve learned about the journey. Stable Moments has truly changed my life in a way I could never imagine.

This post originally appeared on StableMoments.com.

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Why I Hate When People Say They Hate That Their Child Has Autism

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So, The Mighty has asked its readers what their greatest gift has been. I could say the laptop from my parents that I’m typing this on. I could say my awesome phone generously provided by my in-laws. I could say a roof over my head and my family and friends.

While they are all amazing gifts, I have to say the best is my son. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve probably all heard that before, but wait. My story is different.

I’ve been through seven miscarriages. Yes, you read that right. Seven. The first one was about 16 weeks along. The other six were before 11 weeks. “Spontaneous abortions” is how doctors refer to them. I hate that term. I didn’t choose to lose those babies. My body did, and it ripped my heart out every.single.time.

It got to the point where my doctor told me I may never be able to carry a child to term.

Until Liam. I found out on my brother’s birthday that I was pregnant. I was scared to
death. I made an appointment to see an OB/GYN. As soon as I told them of my previous miscarriages, I was scheduled to see a high-risk OB/GYN. I had every test under the sun. While we awaited results, I was told to take it easy. At nine weeks I started to bleed and was rushed to the ER.

With my husband and best friend in tow, I waited for what seemed like several hours (when it was merely one). They brought in an ultrasound machine. There I was, feet in stirrups, a doctor, a nurse, a tech, my hubby and best friend at my feet. The doctor was talking all hush hush. I could feel panic start to course through my body. My hubby and my best friend were standing there with their mouths agape. No one was telling me what was going on.

Then I heard one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. I heard his heart beat. It sounded like a train roaring down the tracks. I was sent home on bed rest, and after going over all my testing, they told me I had a clotting disorder. They sent hubby to the pharmacy for aspirin and told me to take it every morning until 32 weeks.

Aspirin! Aspirin saved my pregnancy! I went to a high-risk OB/GYN weekly through my pregnancy.  Hubby rented me a hospital grade doppler so I could check the baby’s heart beat every day. If I wasn’t throwing up, I was chilling out.

When we moved from Alabama back to Pennsylvania, I had to find a new doctor. By
this time I was 20 weeks in. The new high-risk was quite a drive, as we live in a rural area. So I only saw him every other week. Long story short, I delivered around 36 weeks. I became pre-eclamptic and
had to be induced. But other than that, it was a normal delivery, and I had a beautiful baby boy to be thankful for.

He wasn’t a Christmas gift though; he was actually my Mother’s Day gift that year, as I had him just two days before. I bawled like a baby when they put his little body on my chest. I silently thanked God for this miracle.

So now you know my story — or at least part of it. If you follow us on Facebook, you know my boy is autistic, struggles with biploar disorder, SPD, ADHD, OCD, ODD and anxiety. You also know I embrace him and all his quirkiness. This is why!

I don’t care if he’s autistic. I don’t care that he struggles with all these labels. (I mean, I do, but I don’t love him any less.) I care that he is mine.

So when I hear people say they hate that their child is autistic, I get angry. Not because I don’t think you have valid feelings. Let’s face it, your journey is different than mine. I hate it because I know there are other women and men out there who want nothing more than a child to love. We have that. We were given that blessing. Even though our journeys are hard, we still have them. We have something they long to have. We have something to be thankful for.

You see, my greatest gift didn’t come from a store. It isn’t a thing. My greatest gift is my son, and I will always treasure him. Through the good, the bad and the ugly days of autism and bipolar. He
is my Miracle Man.

For all of January, The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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For Anyone Who Thinks People With Autism Can’t Experience Empathy

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You know what they say about those with autism lacking empathy? I’m here to tell you that just isn’t so.

Today, I walked my two sons to school to let my youngest’s teacher know I had to pick him up early. I also had to give money to my oldest’s teacher for a class Christmas Party. I was mentally prepping myself for a meeting later that day, where I’m fairly certain one of my oldest’s teachers was going to tell me all the ways he isn’t measuring up in class.

I was standing and chatting with a few of the ladies at the elementary school. As we were conversing, I noticed a little boy with what I ass/u/me was cerebral palsy. (I apologize for my lack of knowledge regarding this. Please, forgive me.)  I gave him a smile as he walked by and kept talking to the teachers. Suddenly, the special education teacher says to me, “Mama, be quiet, but come look at this.”  Here is what I saw:

The boy who I’d noticed walking had fallen in front of his classroom door. My oldest son and his fellow classmates were walking to their classroom. My son stopped and said, “Oh man, you fell. Can I help you up? It’s no big deal; we all fall down sometimes. Me? I fall down all the time.” He bent down and scooped the boy up under his arms and helped him up. He and his friends continued on their way to their classroom. He saw me, walked in and gave me a great big ol’ wet kiss on the lips and went on his merry way.

That, my friends, is empathy at its finest. It wasn’t the neurotypical kids who stopped. It was my boy — the one who doesn’t see anything wrong with being different. The one who loves animals, insects, reptiles and all of God’s creatures more than anyone else I know. The one who didn’t know that that is exactly what I needed today more than any other day. This, my friends, is my Christmas gift from my son, and it is perfect.

This post originally appeared on Autism in Our House.

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When My Husband Made a Tire Salesman Cry

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Medical bills were mounting. Kids needed glasses, cars needed repairs and the dog needed surgery. On top of that, Christmas was almost upon us, so presents needed to be purchased.

But all of that was forgotten when he overheard the tire salesman warn her she was in dire need of all new tires, as each one was completely bald. She was a young mom with kids in tow who told the salesman she simply didn’t have the money to replace more than one tire on her car. It was a dark and snowy night, and my husband, Brian, was waiting in our local tire shop to have his six truck tires replaced.

He saw a need that he could do something about. You see, this man lives by the motto, “See a need, fill a need.” So Brian did what he does best. He gave what he had. My husband told the salesman that he would like to pay for a tire to be installed, opposite of the one tire this woman was able to purchase. Brian knew that even though it was just a start, this family would be much safer driving the icy roads with a balanced set of two new tires than they would with just one new tire.

The salesman was so taken aback that he immediately choked up. Eyes brimming with tears, he said that he’d never seen anything like it in his entire nine year tenure in the business.

My husband is a naturally humble, generous man who feels rewarded in the giving, not in the receiving in life. So imagine his unexpected surprise when he later discovered the salesman had returned the entire amount spent on the extra tire to his bill. Rather than the seven tires my husband bought, the salesman only charged him for six.

The simple act of one man making the decision to share what he had, rather than worrying about what he would go without, changed things that night.

My husband’s choice changed things for the mom, who felt a little safer driving her children home on the dark, icy streets.

His example changed things for the tire salesman, who was so encouraged by complete strangers taking care of each other that he quietly paid it forward on my husband’s bill.

His influence changed things for our children, who overheard the recounting of events from husband to wife upon his arrival back home.

His choice changed things for me to know that the lives of other people were impacted, all because of one small step of faith.

This post originally appeared on She Lives Free.

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My Son Has Autism. That Doesn’t Define Who He Is.

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unnamed (63) My 8-year-old son has autism, but it doesn’t define who or what he is.

He’s brilliant, a perfectionist in many ways; he’s black and white, literal, empathetic, plays it by the rules and he’s simple. He’s unique and has capabilities like no one I’ve ever met. He could recite facts about natural disasters and history that I’ve never even heard of. He remembers events, specific dates, times and what one was wearing at said event. He can read a book so fast I question whether he’s actually reading it or not. But then he’ll recite the context back to you without a problem. He’s true and he’s very honest; he will tell it just like it is.

His brain works in ways mine sadly never will. He doesn’t fit into societies norms, and because of this, his special gifts often go unappreciated. My reason for writing this is not to point out all of my son’s strengths or weaknesses. It’s to point out the importance of early intervention.

My pediatrician told me when my son was 2 and a half that he may never speak clearly — or at all — and he may never succeed in school. The doctor was preparing me for the worst, for textbook autism. What a lot of people don’t know is that the spectrum has widened and the characteristics of autism have changed.

My doctor says my son is a miracle. I believe he is a product of a lot of hard work, dedication, tutoring, therapy and love. My son loves hugs and cuddles. He loves praise. His feelings can get hurt. He’s gentle and he loves his younger siblings and has lots of friends. There are things he doesn’t like to do and that he struggles with daily. Yes, we still struggle, and we have bad days. I know everyone’s case is different, but I urge parents to get their kids help early. It made a difference for us. You have to be your child’s advocate and fight for what you believe because no one else is going to. I fought for Jack, and I believe it made a difference.

He’s perfect. He’s mine, and I wouldn’t change him for the world.

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