To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip.

Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days.

He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten.

His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?”

So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me:

Dear Lauren,

I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home.

But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK.

Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy….

Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together.

Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle.

You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own.

These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road.

Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen.

And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me.

It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise.

With love and all the energy I can muster for you,

Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren

mom, dad, and two boys outside
Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter

Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job.

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