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The Many Hats I Wear as the Parent of a Child on the Autism Spectrum

I don’t look good in hats. I’ve never really had that good hat hair or a good hat face, so I guess it’s ironic that, like most moms, I wear many, many hats. ​

I am the mother of three incredible kids: Kyle, Ryan and Emma. Every day I wonder what I did to deserve them and I thank God, the Fates and whomever for believing that I did deserve these three fabulous children, despite all of those not-so-deserving moments during my college years. However, when my middle son Ryan was diagnosed with autism, initially, I struggled with going on a journey we never asked to embark upon.

​Autism became part of our vernacular over 12 years ago and since the day we heard the word “autism,” I began trying on and wearing many different hats. Although my mom hat is without a doubt my most well worn and beloved hat, I have my advocate hat, my blogger hat and my trainer hat that over the past few years have seen their fair share of wear and tear.

When you have a child with any kind of disability, you quickly go shopping for an advocate hat because you know there is no one advocate hat that is going to fit as it fits on you. You wear that hat while you search the internet for therapists, doctors or dentists who will “get” your kid. You wear it to IEP meetings, restaurants, the grocery store and on vacations ready to fight for your kid and educate anyone who will listen. Sometimes you wear your advocate hat right over the top of your mom hat which may look ridiculous, but you know it’s necessary.

When advocating in the checkout line at the grocery store didn’t seem like enough, I decided to start a blog (with Ryan’s permission), entitled The AWEnesty of Autism over six years ago. Time for a new hat. I truly thought maybe my mom would read my blog and she does (or at least she says she does), but I never imagined the number of moms who were looking for a safe corner of the internet to share their hopes, their dreams, their tears, their ugly mom moments and their well-worn hats. More importantly, I never dreamed of what my readers would give to me. It is indescribable and I am so grateful to each and every one of them and their sons and daughters for their willingness to let me into their hearts while wearing my blogger hat.

Not long after getting used to how I looked in my blogger hat, I found myself trying on a new hat. As a former juvenile probation officer and the mother of a son with autism, I was asked to work with Pennsylvania’s ASERT (Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training) Collaborative. In the past four years, as their Justice System Consultant, we have trained over 6,000 police officers, probation officers, judges, attorneys, detention staff and child welfare staff throughout Pennsylvania on how to safely interact with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The positive response to this training and the universal need from all aspects of the justice system has been incredible and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to educate these audiences who are so willing to listen. After each training, I come home and take off my trainer hat and put on my mom hat and I’m thankful that each one fits me well.

Along with my many hats, I also wear a bracelet with my favorite quote from Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I’ve been blessed to have three important days. The day I was born, the day I became a mother and the day we heard the word “autism.” It took me a while to realize the impact that last day would have not only on my son, but on my family, me and all the people I am fortunate enough to interact with wearing all three of my hats — even if I don’t have a good hat face.

Image Credits: Kathy Hooven