“This is autism,” the developmental pediatrician said to me and my husband as my son played in the floor. She immediately began explaining what our next steps should be. Before walking into the evaluation, I had been about 90 percent sure those were the words we would hear, but hearing it out loud was still difficult at the time. I looked at my son playing on the floor and immediately felt sadness. I wanted to cry, but the appointment was moving on, and it was important information, so all emotions had to be placed on hold. It was necessary for me to participate for the remainder of our appointment. We were discussing my son’s future, after all.
When the appointment was over and we left, I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know where to start. I was completely overwhelmed, so I dove headfirst into research, looking for answers to all of my questions. I read books, I looked online, I joined groups, found a local autism center, and found every resource I could find at that time. I spent so much time learning about the diagnosis from websites and books that I probably could write a book myself. I have learned so much through this journey and through research, but research can only give us so much. Some of the things I have learned since that day are from the journey itself.
1. There is a lot of information out there about autism, but none of it related specifically to my child. None of it was just about my son Brayden. We have had to learn over the years what works best for him and how to make life easier for him throughout this process. The research did, however, teach us about challenges my son might face and how we could work with him in those areas. The research also helped us find people who understood our lives. We found multiple resources for our son through it all and have met some wonderful, understanding people along the way.
2. Autism is a journey. We didn’t know when we received the diagnosis what our future held, and honestly, we still don’t. We know the progress we’ve seen and we know where he has challenges, but we love to look at how far we’ve come. We’ve set goals along the way, and watching my little guy work his way toward them is truly amazing. The journey can be frustrating, trying, emotional, and difficult, but it’s our journey, and we are making the best of it.
3. We celebrate. We celebrate every milestone that’s met. This whole process has given us a sense of how hard our children work to reach milestones, and we are genuinely excited when they meet them. Each new achievement is magnificent and cause for celebration.
4. The diagnosis didn’t change my child. It changed our lives, yes, but my son was the same little boy I loved unconditionally before the word autism came into our lives. Nothing about him changed that day. My sweet, cuddly, brilliant, adorable little boy was the same walking out of that appointment that he was walking in. We do things differently now and it is hard at times, but my child is beautiful and inspiring. Acceptance was the the hardest part for me, but I’m thankful I’ve gotten there.
5. I had to give myself time. When I was pregnant, I had all these hopes and dreams of who my baby would become. After my son’s autism diagnosis, I was grieving a loss of expectation for who I wanted him to become. I imagined him playing football, being the star quarterback for University of Alabama, and bringing home the Heisman. What I have learned is that all of those hopes and dreams I had for who he would become might not have been his hopes and dreams in the first place. I began to look forward to seeing who he becomes as he grows, and I am not disappointed at all. Actually, my son couldn’t care less about football, and that’s OK. I love what he loves, and I couldn’t be prouder of the young man he’s becoming.
6. “Normal” is not normal. My son will likely never be “normal.” I’m not “normal” and neither is my husband. As a matter of fact, no one truly is. The beauty of being a human is that no two people are alike. We all think and act differently. We have different interests, hobbies, and personalities. We all have different gifts and talents to offer to this world, and this world needs differences in people. Can you imagine how boring life would be if we were all exactly the same?
I don’t want to make my son “normal” because there isn’t a normal. I only want to make a world, which can be overwhelming to him at times, a little easier to be a part of. I feel like it is my job as a mother to do everything I can to make that happen.
Since my son’s autism diagnosis on February 27, 2013, we have had great days, and I have days when I still need to cry. I have learned so much about myself, my family, and my son through this journey, and we have all come so far from where we were in the beginning. Autism is a journey I never planned, but I sure do love my tour guide.
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