He snuggles in closer, smelling of baby shampoo with a hint of something sweet mixed in. His head still fits perfectly on my shoulder, warm and precious as we read “The Polar Express” for the millionth wonderful time. As I begin to turn the page that will lead the protagonist to the train, he puts his hand on mine and says, “Mom, religion doesn’t matter to Santa Claus. Everyone who’s good should get a gift.”
Amen to that.
I have no doubt the magic of Santa will prevail in the our household, and my boys are both confident they’ve behaved this year and that Santa will reward their efforts. I know this from my son Zachary’s coveted words and, equally definitive, from the priceless nod of my nonverbal son Justin’s head when asked if he’s getting presents this year. The fact that both of my autistic boys can communicate is a gift in and of itself, one I never take for granted.
And yet, if I’m honest, there are so many more gifts autism has brought us.
Ten years ago if someone had mentioned “autism’s gifts” to me, I would have rolled my eyes and probably detailed our daily existence to that individual, an itinerary of Justin’s day replete with insomnia, reflux, aggression, a complete inability to communicate and many other issues related to his disorder. I would definitely have looked heavenward once again seven years ago as we watched our second son Zachary regress, losing his words, his love of life and quite honestly, the very light from his eyes. Gifts were not forefront in my mind when thinking about the impact autism had on our family.
Fear and exhaustion were frankly much more present.
But years later, it turns out that so many of the issues have resolved themselves through hard work, maturity and love. The gifts are here, waiting to be seen, hoping to be discovered. I’ve watched both my children begin their lives’ journeys miserable, tired and seemingly lost in their own worlds where my husband and I could not traverse. Eleven years after that first diagnosis, I’ve seen two confident, loving and happy boys emerge from what seemed like an impenetrable fortress I could not break through to relieve their discomfort.
Of course, the fact that they both now revel in their lives is the biggest gift of all.
There are so many other gifts, however, all priceless in nature, many of which I would have overlooked had autism not been present in our lives.
Autism has made us closer as a family, has created a teamwork mentality I’m not sure we would have embraced otherwise.
Having two autistic children has given me the gift of educating everyone we meet about the disorder, to pave the way for understanding and hopefully make another family’s experience out in the world a bit easier.
Autism has given me the gift of the community as a second family, with whom I feel an instantaneous camaraderie and closeness that I treasure.
I’ve been given the gift of learning to revel in even the smallest increments of the boys’ collective progress.
Finally, autism has given me the gift of forcing me to be utterly present when I’m with my sons, making certain I never miss their ebullient smiles, precious eye contact or generous hugs.
Years ago, when all seemed especially bleak in the landscape of both my sons’ lives, an friend in the autism community told me this: No matter how difficult the moment, the hour or the entire day, at the end of the night find one moment of joy, and cling to it. I took that advice and built on it, finding many moments to be grateful for, enabling me to see that for this family, the gifts of autism outweigh the struggles. My advice to you is to find that instant in time, embrace it and foster it. Help it grow into multiple moments of happiness and peace.
After a decade of strife my sons are safe, productive and happy. They are a gift to the world.
And they will always be a gift to me.
Follow this journey Autism-Mommy Therapist.
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