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Dear Autism, Thanks for Making Me Beautiful


Autism, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. You’re an ugly beast. You possessed my son at a young age and immediately went to work, trying to wear me down with his crippling anxiety, volcanic tantrums, physical aggression and foul language.

But I weathered the storm.

You thought you could break me with an adversarial school district that didn’t understand my son’s challenges or strengths. But I armed myself with the knowledge of special education law and at every IEP meeting battled for my son’s Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

I was a warrior.

But instead of retreating, you turned to guerrilla warfare. You surprised me by ambushing my marriage, my health, my sanity. While I was down for the count, you went in for the kill. Your final attempt to ruin me was with the phone call from the police, informing me of months of alleged physical and verbal abuse to my son by his special ed teacher.

Guess what? You finally won.

They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I’m a fighter, but I didn’t feel any stronger. After much reflection I realized that in my case, what hadn’t killed me was making me beautiful. Yes, beautiful.

jenn hugunin son the mighty
Photo credit: Christopher Cooke Photography

True, you succeeded in wearing me down, autism, but as you were chipping away at me each day, something amazing was happening. You revealed an inner beauty I didn’t know existed. As you took, you also gave. You were the Colorado River to my Grand Canyon.

After having been in the trenches for years while we waged our war, I gained perspective on what really mattered in life and less tolerance for what didn’t. My compassion grew toward others as I witnessed the struggle of so many. I became more humble as I met other warrior parents, some who were fighting bigger battles than me. I recognized that all brains were not wired the same way – autism had its own unique wiring – and that, in itself, was a beautiful thing.

You, autism, taught me that immense beauty exists inside each of us, but sometimes it’s necessary to go through the process of erosion to reveal it. Some call it the beauty of decay. It’s seen in a graceful Michelangelo sculpture chiseled from a block of marble, a caterpillar morphing into butterfly or a tiny but powerful river carving out an awe-inspiring natural wonder of the world.

But most important, your beauty is seen in my son. He’s a bright, creative, silly, energetic 9-year-old who loves skateboarding, video games and hanging out with his friends.

So, thanks for the metamorphosis, autism. But let’s sign a truce now, OK?

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