To Parents of an Autistic Child, From an Adult on the Spectrum
Dear parent(s) of an autistic child,
I am writing to you from my heart, and I hope you will listen closely. I went the first 50, yes fifty years of my life not knowing I’m autistic. Oh, I knew my entire life that I was different and never fit in. I encountered one obstacle after another, struggled, yet overcame them. I never had any intervention such as psychologists, occupational therapists, IEPs, or medications. Yet I accomplished many things others only dream about. So how was I able to do it all? The answer is my mom. She was my support system, my best friend, and coached me through everything.
One of my biggest accomplishments was earning my Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia from Columbia University in 1988 and then starting my full time career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. I became an internationally published military aviation photojournalist and got to fly in an F-15 fighter jet. I also used to ride horses in show jumping competition over six-foot-high fences. All this, and I didn’t know I’m autistic! I learned about autism only by chance, after a co-worker’s son was diagnosed.
Here is the dedication to my mom in my memoir, which I wrote right after getting diagnosed at age 50, “ASPERGER’S SYNDROME: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade.”
I dedicate this book to my mother, Rita, who enabled me to become the person I am today, and for everything I’ve accomplished throughout my life. She has always believed in me and encouraged me to work hard and follow my dreams, no matter how far-fetched they seemed to be. I’ve always dreamed big, and she’s right there to cheer me on. Because we didn’t know I had Asperger’s syndrome when I was a child, indeed there were endless struggles with my “Asperger ways,” but somehow, she instinctively knew exactly what to do with me to keep me calm and focused. I can well remember endless times of getting upset or stressed out over something, but she always remained calm and worked to bring me back to my natural state of peace and calmness. She has devoted her whole life to me, and because of that I have accomplished things that others only dream of, because I focused on the gifts that I was given when I was born with Asperger’s.
My mom died on August 9, 2013. There are no words I can used to describe the loss I still feel from her absence. They say that time heals all wounds, but that’s not quite true. I miss her even more now. There are so many things I want to tell her. I found my soul mate, Abraham, and had the first-ever All-Autistic Wedding. We are working hard to help change the world’s view of autism, and I’m striving to revolutionize health care for autistic individuals. I’m using my 27 years as a health care professional and my autism to educate health care providers on ways to give the best care possible.
My mom empowered me to be able to do all of these things. This clearly shows you, my dear parent, the power you can have on your child. By providing them with emotional support, you are giving the most powerful gift on earth. I approach each day with my mom’s words of encouragement in my mind, and they are always loud and clear. Even though she’s not here physically, her wisdom is still guiding me, helping me reach my goals.
I believe when your autistic child grows up to become an adult, what they will remember the most is what their parent(s) did for them. Be their support system. Be their source of knowledge, and most of all, love them. They have gifts you can nurture. They will make you proud. You can enable them to become as independent as possible, and fly from the nest. Even after they take flight, your love and support will always be with them on their journey.
Anita Lesko, BSN, RN, MS, CRNA