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A Is for Acceptance: What a Mom Wants the World to Know

A is for acceptance. This starts when you come across a child engaging in behaviors that can be associated with autism. For example, my son presses his palm intensely on his chin while uttering an exasperated sigh. Your reaction may be to think to yourself or even mumble, “What is wrong with that kid?” or “Please stop that!” But instead of giving in to a snap judgment, try putting yourself in my son’s shoes for a minute. Accept that my son might feel anxious, frustrated or scared. Accept that he might not have another way to express this feeling. Accept that he’s doing the best he can at the moment to pull himself together.

Acceptance is really so powerful and so much better than judgment. It’s not always easy, but you’ll likely have lots of chances to practice. Autism families are everywhere these days.

U is for unconditional. In the 12 years I have been JJ’s mom, I have learned something I don’t think I fully appreciated before. I now truly appreciate the concept and power of unconditional love. Once I realized that more than anything in the world my son needed me to love him without expectations — unconditionally — the seas parted ahead of us. It felt so right. I know this is the greatest gift I can give to him.

T is for today. I’m a goal-oriented person. From the moment I was born, I’m pretty sure I had my sights squarely focused on the future and my eyes on the prize. My mantra could be summed up by something like “Dream big and go for it!” And in many aspects of my life, I still lean heavily in that direction.

But when it comes to parenting my son, I’ve come to understand that focusing too much on tomorrow robs both him and me of today. Let’s be clear, worrying about the future of our children is something every parent does every single day. And I have planned and researched and spent many a sleepless night worrying.

But not a day goes by when I don’t remind myself to look into my son’s eyes and completely enjoy the person he is; play with him until he giggles uncontrollably; kiss him gently while whispering, “Love you, sweetie.” Those moments are precious to me (and I hope to him, too). And none of that lives in the future. It’s all about today, baby.


I is for inclusion. Inclusion is a word I’ve grown to distrust — but wish for with all my heart. When Jonathan first entered school, there was quite a bit of discussion about this concept of inclusion. He would be part of a school with “typically” developing peers and there was to be all sorts of possibilities for him to be included. Well, as it turned out, things didn’t exactly work out that way.

I was full of blame about the unfolding turn of events. I blamed the teachers for marginalizing my son and underestimating his abilities. I blamed other parents for their exclusive focus on academic achievement. I blamed and resented the school administration for not realizing what my first-grader could offer the all-school program, even though the theme was “We ALL are heroes.”

Through the years, my resentment about exclusion has waned (although, as I write this, I can tell it has not disappeared). But I’ve learned that it eats up quite a bit of energy and good will to stoke these fires. Also, I get it. Schools and parents are under tremendous pressure to raise and to educate high achievers. The bar is rising higher and higher. A lot is expected of kids today. Some of this seems pretty great, but some of it is really scary and unfortunate. It can leave some kids feeling marginalized. And the labeling and excluding starts in kindergarten.

S is for special. Much like the word inclusion, the word special is a loaded one for me. The word lost its luster for me when my son was given the label “special needs.” To me there is nothing good about the low bar that is set for our kids by some educators and administrators in the public education system. No, it’s not special. There is another side to this, though. I’ve grown to appreciate that my son not only needs, but deserves, to be treated differently than his “typically” developing peers to have a chance to learn. He is wired differently, and therefore, needs to be taught differently. And that’s OK. But I can’t embrace the “special needs” label. In my opinion it’s just too loaded with disingenuous separate and not equal treatment.

M is for matters. Each and every day I remind myself that who I see my son to be, what I expect from him, why I advocate to get his needs met, and how I love him to pieces… all of this really matters.

His future may be different than what I imagined for him when I first held him in my arms and kissed his sweet forehead. He likely has struggles ahead of him. We all do.

But I know these things for certain about him. He makes the world a better place with his smile. He has great capacity for love and laughter. He can bring out the best in people. He has a lot to offer. He deserves respect and understanding. Simply put…he matters.

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