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3 Gifts I Didn't Expect After My Daughter's Autism Diagnosis

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A week ago, I was getting ready for a follow-up visit with the developmental pediatrician, and to be honest, before last April I wasn’t all too sure what a developmental pediatrician did or was, but I was certain my family of seven didn’t need one. That was until I was ready to get real and acknowledge my youngest daughter was on the autism spectrum.

Seraphina was born on a blazing hot September evening. She flew into the world, letting us know life would never be the same. With four children at home and no clue as to what to expect, I was utterly shocked the next day as I slid her sweet newborn body into a pink outfit that let us know, “I’m the little sister.”

Our sweet Seraphina, who takes her name from the strongest of angels, would begin to show us the strength we needed to lead her in life — and the strength she had to show us the life that lay ahead of her. As an infant, Seraphina was perfect. Truly. There were a few cries, but when there was reason. She seemed to be developing typically, until one day I realized she had some quirks that raised a few flags and made me begin to wonder.

Fast-forward six months and many trying doctors’ appointments, and Seraphina was diagnosed with autism. We drove home, and as tears rolled down my cheeks I never imagined the things I would learn to be gifts after hearing the words “autism diagnosis.”

I have recognized three major gifts since learning of her diagnosis:

1. First, the world has slowed and allowed me to become more compassionate and understanding of others. What once seemed so important now seems so frivolous. I am a Type A mom who had to have the house in complete order, my kids had to do their best, and when in public we had to have a good showing. Now, when I see a parent struggling to manage a child during a meltdown, I understand. When my child comes up to cuddle me, I stop and take the time. For so many years, I spent my life trying to be seen as perfect when in reality I never was. Now, I realize my life is perfect. It’s just a different perfect than I imagined.

2. Second, I feel the significance of milestones so much more. I remember being so impressed with my 7-month-old when she learned to walk. To be honest, my kids didn’t have many issues with milestones, and I never understood other parents when they lamented over milestones not met — until I had Seraphina. Seraphina walked on time. She talked on time, but her autistic traits became more apparent nearing 18 months. So when we got eye contact, I beamed. And the first time I heard “I love you,” I cried. I came to appreciate the little milestones that used to seem like no big deal so much more.

3. Third, I have gained a new family. I remember my first trip to an autism support group. I hated it. On the drive home, I begged a friend to return my special needs parent membership card, but this card was now mine. Not for a month or a year, but for a lifetime. I no longer feel sorry for myself, but rather I’m grateful to surround myself with individuals walking a journey similar to my own. Yesterday, I reached out to a mom with an autistic child. I invited her for tea. This was totally out of my comfort zone, but having her here, I felt good. It felt safe to talk, and I knew she understood.

There are so many things we face in life that may cause us to feel sorry. This diagnosis is not one of them. I had to mourn the childhood I expected for my daughter, but releasing that only allowed me to open myself up to the gifts that come along with the diagnosis, too.

A version of this post originally appeared on Messy Blessy Momma.

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Originally published: October 25, 2016
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