Lauren Casper

@lauren-casper | contributor
Lauren Casper is a Chaplain’s wife and the mother of two beautiful pre-schoolers. She is passionate about adoption, grace, compassion and advocating for those living with special needs as well as the ones who love them. Lauren blogs about infertility, life with special needs children and much more at her blog, www.laurencasper.com.
Lauren Casper

My Lesson for Autism Awareness Month About Redefining Success

I sat on the couch, holding my breath, watching my son Mareto play with a pile of squishy rubber blocks. It was a warm summer morning, and Mareto was quiet and focused as he placed one block on top of another. I was silent, afraid to move and ruin his process. He looked like he was really concentrating. He reached over to the pile and grabbed another block to place on top of the first two. When he carefully set down that third block to form a small tower, I burst into cheers of joy and excitement as he looked up at me with pride in his eyes. I clapped enthusiastically while tears streamed down my face. Mareto is on the autism spectrum; he was diagnosed just a few weeks before his 2nd birthday. In that first year, my husband and I had spent three mornings a week sitting in a room covered with mats, watching the occupational therapist play with our son. As they played, she explained all the steps that our brains take to do something as basic as stacking three blocks. On this day, Mareto was finally taking those steps. What we once would have considered effortless and unimpressive was actually the result of hard work, some mistakes and a great amount of energy. I thought about how much we take for granted, and I realized what a gift it is to feel this level of joy over my child stacking blocks. Then I laughed out loud when Mareto began working on a new tower — this one five blocks high. And while we celebrated and cheered for Mareto when he hit this milestone, it was simply one moment of victory preceded by several other victories. I think we need to shift our mindset to create a new definition of success. We tend to define success in quantitative terms. We want to be able to measure it in order to feel that we have accomplished something. It could be easy to look at Mareto finally stacking his blocks as the moment of success, but what about the months of hard work that preceded that moment? Just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean we aren’t building a successful life one moment, one effort, one step at a time. Success isn’t defined by one culminating moment, but rather all the moments that came before and all the moments that follow. Success was found in each time Mareto sat on the floor with his occupational therapist, every time he got frustrated and cried, every time he reached for a new block even through tears. Success was in the determination and perseverance shown by my son, even though things didn’t always go how he expected them to. And Mareto didn’t stop with stacking a tower of three or five blocks… today he’s building spaceships with his Legos and parking garages for his toy trucks. What we tend to see as setbacks or standstills are actually turning points in our stories. They are little moments of victory hiding in the ordinary and extraordinary days that make up our one beautiful life. Learning to redefine success is just one of the many life lessons Mareto is teaching me as I watch him grow and experience the world through his own unique perspective. I’m so grateful I get to have front row seats to his story. For me, living with Mareto is a lot like playing the telephone game. He blurts out little phrases that have their origin in something he saw or heard, but by the time they make their way through his mind and back out of his mouth, they’ve transformed — often into beautiful truths about living a simple, authentic, love- and joy-filled life. For all those looking to recapture the faith, simplicity, wonder, hope, courage, and joy of life, my book It’s Okay About It provides a guide to look inward and live outward, to discover the most wide-open and beautiful life possible. Follow this journey on Laurencasper.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lauren Casper

What It's Like to Have a Miscarriage

Eight years ago, we spent our second wedding anniversary in the outer banks. This is my brave face, friends. This is the face I put on to tell myself everything was fine when I was hurting so deeply inside. Just three weeks earlier I had miscarried our second baby and I knew when the vacation ended I was headed for a battery of tests that would last months. I was tired, sad and scared. And I didn’t want anyone to know. But this man knew and loved me right through it. Took me out to dinner every night, bought me a new dress (I’m wearing it in the picture), let me lie in the sun and swim in the ocean all day, let me talk when I wanted and just sit quietly when I didn’t. I’m so grateful I married a man who knows me and loves me and cares for me. The other day I posted the photo and caption above on Instagram, and I read a handful of really beautiful responses that caused me to go back and re-read my caption. One phrase struck me, and I wished I had written it differently or explained it better. “This is my brave face, friends. This is the face I put on to tell myself everything was fine when I was hurting so deeply inside.” But the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure I used the right words. Because what if instead of smiling on a balcony for a picture I had stared sadly into the camera? What if I hadn’t felt like faking it in that moment and just suggested we not take pictures? What if someone caught my most vulnerable moments on film? The moments when my knees tucked under my chin and tears poured down my face as I tried to muffle sobs in the crook of my elbow. Would that not be my “brave face”? Of course it would. It’s brave to feel and let out grief. And it’s brave to put on a new dress, go out to dinner and smile for a picture when your insides hurt so bad. Just about every minute of life is a brave one when you’re walking through the trenches. And sometimes it’s actually harder to show the world your real self in your darkest days. When I lost our first two babies just 10 months apart, I didn’t really let people in. I struggled to process the losses myself and didn’t feel safe letting anyone else into it. I spent a lot of time in public wearing that “brave face.” But it wasn’t always the truth. Here’s my truth about having a miscarriage: I was shocked the first time around. The hours spent in the hospital are a blur. My memories are fuzzy and the whole thing felt like a whirlwind, even though we were there most of the day. I couldn’t stop crying. Even when I didn’t think I was crying anymore I noticed tears were still streaming down my face. Tears became second nature that day and in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. I cried myself to sleep a lot. It was painful – emotionally, mentally and physically. I was surprised by how physically painful it was. I blamed myself for a long time. I questioned everything – the food I ate, the amount of sleep I got, my level of activity and the day or two I forgot to take my prenatal vitamins. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow it was my fault I miscarried. And I carried that guilt for a long time even though the doctors and nurses and my mom told me I hadn’t done anything wrong. I felt rushed through my grief. I felt a mostly unspoken nudge to move on and “get over it.” I noticed that after the first few weeks most people seemed to think life ought to be normal again. But I wasn’t there yet, and as a result I felt lonely and kept my grief to myself. And to be honest, life never did “go back to normal.” Life changed – I changed. I looked at positive pregnancy tests differently after our first miscarriage. I suddenly knew that being pregnant didn’t always mean you were going to have a baby to take home and raise… sometimes it means miscarriage, or stillbirth, or infant loss. I lost quite a bit of my usually optimistic self. But I turned into a hopeful realist, and that’s not a bad thing. I struggled to go out in public for awhile. About four months after our first miscarriage we went out to one of my favorite restaurants. The waitress was so sweet and peppy, and it was hard for me. Everything in me wanted to tell her my world had tipped over. How could it just keep turning for everyone else? I lost more than an “idea” or “dream” or “future hope”… I lost a person. Two persons. A real human baby was growing inside of me with a beating heart that just stopped one day. And I don’t know why. And then it happened again. And I still don’t know why. It’s hard to explain to others in a way that is easily understood. Because no one else was as connected to my babies. I was the only one who ever physically “touched” them. I carried them and my heart was knit to theirs and my life sustained their lives… until one day it didn’t. And it was utterly crushing. It is utterly crushing. I lost two children and I have no idea if they’d have had blue eyes like mine or green eyes like my husband, John. I have no idea if they’d be blondes or brunettes or one of each. I have no idea if they’d like music or sports or science or creative writing. I ache for the time we lost and the lifetime of tears and laughter we’ll never have. And absolutely nothing about my grief takes away from my complete joy and gratitude and love for the two children I hold in my arms. Follow this journey on Laurencasper.com.

Lauren Casper

To the Little Boy at Chick-fil-A Who Came Up to My Son With Autism

We were out of our normal routine and in a location we’d never visited before. This Chick-fil-A was bustling and the play area was full of kids — most of them bigger than mine. We ordered food, chose a table right up against the glass of the play area so we could watch the kids and settled in. My son, Mareto, seemed to be enjoying the loud play of the other children while the rest of us ate and talked and made sure to check on him every few moments. About halfway through the meal, I did one of my routine checks and found Mareto in the corner of the play area — knees curled up under his chin, arms wrapped around his legs, rocking back and forth. I knelt down in front of him and asked, “What’s wrong, bud?” A noticed a boy hovering nearby but didn’t pay much attention to him. Mareto lifted his face and I saw the tears. My heart broke for him as he tried to explain that the bigger kids weren’t being nice. I put the story together and could tell that the other kids weren’t trying to be mean, but they were playing a game Mareto didn’t understand (cops and robbers), and he couldn’t figure out the social cues. So his feelings were hurt and he was trying to self-soothe. As I listened and nodded, the little boy standing nearby came right up to Mareto, and stood before him to say, “Do you want to play with me? You can be my friend!” Suddenly I paid I lot more attention to this boy. As I looked at his face, I could tell he was a couple years older than Mareto. I thanked him, told him he was so kind and then asked him his name. “Gage.” “Mareto, this is Gage! Did you hear what he said?” Mareto shook his head. Gage repeated himself confidently, “Do you want to play with me? You can be my friend!” Mareto uncurled and stood up. “Yes, OK. We can be friends.” He wiped his face, smiled at Gage and the two ran off to play. For the rest of the time we were there, Gage never left Mareto’s side, and the two had a wonderful time playing. On the way out, I made sure to find Gage’s mom and tell her what a sweet boy she had and that she was clearly doing a wonderful job. She smiled but didn’t seem surprised. Obviously this is typical of Gage. Later in the car, Mareto brought up how sad he was when the other kids weren’t nice to him. I said I understood, but then I reminded him of Gage. And because of one little boy’s kindness I was able to show Mareto a lesson I’d been trying to tell him for awhile. That even if everyone else is doing something you don’t like, all you need is one friend. One person can make a difference. One person can change your day. I asked him how he felt after Gage asked him to play. “Good. I like Gage.” And now Mareto knows to just find one person to be friends with, one person to care and understand, and it will be OK. Gage, I want to thank you again. You’ll likely never read this letter, but maybe someone else who needs to hear this message will read it. Gage, you are a kind person with a good heart. Those are two things that can never be taken away from you. Don’t change. Don’t ever stop sticking up for people smaller than you and reaching out to the person alone in the corner. You can change the world just by being exactly who you are. You might not think you are brave, but you are. I remember childhood, and I know just how much strength it takes to leave the pack and do what no one else is doing. You could have kept playing with the children your age and no one would have noticed. But you chose to do something different, and it brightened our day and taught my kids an important life lesson. Gage, I could tell you didn’t know there was anything different about my son. You had no idea he has autism, and you weren’t trying to be a hero. You were simply being nice and showing compassion and care to a child who felt left out. And that’s all that matters. Just keep being you — because who you are is beautiful. And thank you for making our day. Follow this journey on Laurencasper.com. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible kindness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Casper

Dear Mom Blogs: Response To Moms Who Judge

I was scrolling through Facebook with my morning coffee when a post from a page I follow caught my eye. It started out the way so many of them do: “Dear Helicopter Mom at the Playground…” I kept reading because sometimes “Dear Mom” posts surprise me and are sweet and encouraging. Unfortunately, this one was judgmental and sarcastic. Because I’m not a fan of public shaming, I won’t post it in its entirety here. But the gist of the message was this: Mom #1 sees Mom #2 with a sweet little girl at the playground. Sweet little girl is dressed in an extra special outfit with a pretty bow in her hair. Mom #1 watches as Mom #2 hovers and “overprotects” her daughter as they play. Mom #1 keeps her distance, makes a bunch of assumptions and judgments and then runs home to type up a Facebook status in which she admonishes Mom #2 to let her daughter make mistakes, trip, fall and get dirty. She completed her post with information on where to buy playground appropriate clothing. And the cycle of judgment, shame and guilt is continued through another sanctimonious Facebook post. I wonder if the dreaded “mom guilt” actually originated as a result of “mom judging.” A lot of what if’s ran through my head as I thought about the scenario described in that Facebook status. I couldn’t help but wonder… What if this little girl has some hidden illness or disability that makes this mom worry more than others might? What if, like us, this mom sat in the waiting room of the hospital while her daughter underwent surgeries and then painful recoveries? Or the bandages recently came off and the stitches were recently removed, but the mom is still nervous and careful? Maybe this mom has already buried one child, and she’s struggling through grief and panic over losing the little girl in front of her? Maybe there’s an older brother at home with casts on his legs or arms from a terrible playground accident? This mom could be struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, and the playground is really tough for her, but she’s doing her best to get out and about with her daughter. Or they could be on their way home from a special event or a funeral, and she didn’t pack an extra outfit. But what if this mom is just like so many other moms? This sweet little toddler could be her first. She’s just doing what the rest of us are doing — trying to figure it out day by day, hour by hour, one experience at a time. She might have already thought to herself, “Maybe this wasn’t the best outfit to wear to the playground.” What if she’s just doing what she feels is best for her daughter at that moment? What if she saw that status? Instead of friendship and compassion, she’d find judgment and shame. Instead of encouragement, she’d find sarcasm and guilt. Instead of making assumptions and running home to our keyboards, we could approach moms at the playground with a smile and, “Hi! How old is your daughter? She looks so beautiful today!” Or after watching the mom gasp and rush over to save her daughter, we could offer an understanding smile and said, “Playgrounds can be scary, can’t they?” What doors could be opened and what friendships could be forged if we were less attached to our ideas of how other moms should parent and instead were more interested in their stories and their unique families? Because when we’re snarky and rude and give disapproving glances, we create walls. So when a mom at the playground might have real questions about parenting styles, she looks around to find walls instead of smiles and open doors. Let’s be better at cheering one another on. And let’s write “Dear Mom Who…” Facebook statuses that build up instead of tear down. Here’s mine… Dear Mom Who Loves Her Daughter, I see you watching your little girl so carefully. I see that pretty little dress and bright pink bow you put in her hair. You showed such care, attention and love when dressing her for the day. I see the nervous way you glance around to remove any danger from your daughter’s path. Children have a way of bringing us to our knees, don’t they? Whoever said being a mom is like walking around with your heart outside your body was so right! I can tell how much you love her and want the best for her. Keep on keeping on, Mama! You’ll question yourself a thousand times a day, just like I do. You’ll get it wrong and you’ll get it right — we all do. Want to meet here again next week? I’ll bring the Starbucks! Love, A Mom Who’s Doing Her Best to Do Her Best (just like you) Follow this journey on LaurenCasper.com.

Lauren Casper

When My Son's Doctor Said a Sentence I Didn't Know I Needed to Hear

Last week I sat in the waiting room of the hospital with two antsy children, trying to keep one from dashing into the elevator and the other from twirling into nearby people. Our son sees a specialist whose office is in the local hospital. It’s not my favorite place, but he’s one of the best doctors in the area. I’m beginning to feel the sweat beads on my face when the nurse finally calls our name… several times. I’m trying to gather our things and the children and finally cry out, “We’re coming as fast as we can!” We make our way down the hall to the room where they take vitals. I kneel on the floor to help my son with his shoes and then help him step on the scale. “Hands down, buddy!” “Both feet on the bottom.” “Don’t touch the wall!” “Nope – both feet on the scale, buddy! ” “Like this! Do what Mommy does!” Until we finally get a fairly accurate weight. Over to the wall we go where I drop to my knees to put his feet against it. “No squatting.” “Honey look at me – look straight at my face.” “No jumping please!” “Just freeze – just like that!” And we finally get his height. Temperature is next and it takes a few tries – then pulse and blood pressure. “It’s just a hug for your arm!” We move down a few doors to wait for the doctor. I’m damp with sweat now and feeling frazzled. I spend the next few minutes keeping little hands out of the trash, pulling him out from under the cabinet, placing tools out of reach, and finally quiet him in the chair with my phone. There’s the light tap at the door. This doctor understands and never makes us wait long. Twenty minutes later we’re gathering our things to leave and the doctor stops to shake my hand on the way out of the exam room. Distracted I thank him for his time and care for my son. Then he stops mid-stride and turns to me. “Thank you for what you’re doing.” He looks right at me as he says it. “You’re doing a great job with your children.” I sputter out a thank you as he turns and disappears down the hall. The doctors we see know how much I love my children. They see it when my eyes fill with tears as I ask for answers and help and describe the struggles they face. They hear it when my voice chokes and I share my fears, concerns and hopes. But he’s the first one to stop and thank me and tell me I’m doing it right. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I used to bristle at that phrase and think to myself, “I don’t want anyone raising our children but me and my husband. We didn’t bring them home so someone else could raise them!” But I didn’t understand what the phrase meant. I can get so consumed in our daily lives and in the many needs and trials and triumphs we experience that I get tunnel vision. I keep my nose to the ground and focus on our family. But when I take the time to raise my head and look around I see that we have a small village helping us raise our children. I see the grandparents who take our children for a weekend so my husband and I can have some respite. I see the friend who comes to babysit on occasion so we can go to an event or have a date night. I see the teachers who text us in the morning to let us know our son isn’t crying anymore and include pictures of him playing. I see the friend who comes to our house to cut our son’s hair just so he’ll be comfortable with the experience. I see the therapists who work with my son weekly, partnering with me to help him grow. I see the friends who listen and cry and pray with me. I see the family members who call to check in and celebrate milestones with us. I see the doctors who answer our questions, try new approaches, take my evening phone calls and take the time to get to know our family well. I see the loved ones who leave us a meal, send a gift card to the coffee shop or mail an encouraging note. I see the Sunday school teachers who adapt their normal routine to include our son. I see the strangers who have stopped in the store to pat me on the shoulder mid-meltdown, offer a smile or simply tell me, “ It’s OK. ” When I stop to look around and see the village, I’m overcome with gratitude. The village feeds us – our souls and our stomachs. The village teaches us and guides us at times. The village encourages us to keep moving forward one day, one step at a time. It takes a village to raise a child – a beautiful village of people to love our family along the way – a community of people reaching out to offer support, encouragement and wisdom. And I love our little village. Follow this journey on LaurenCasper.com.

Lauren Casper

Why It Is Good for My Son With Autism to Go Out

When you read articles about autism on the Internet, sooner or later (likely sooner) you’ll come across some common opinions in the comments section. They go something like this: “Why don’t you just keep your child at home?” “Here’s an idea: Your husband could stay home with the kids while you go grocery shopping alone!” “People are paying for a meal. They don’t need to be interrupted by your unruly child who can’t handle the restaurant.” “If your kid doesn’t do well on airplanes, then don’t fly!” “Hire a sitter and go to (fill in the blank with any public place) alone!” It’s sad that this is such a widely held view toward children (and probably some adults) with autism. My husband and I hold an opposite view on going out and about with our children, one of whom is on the spectrum. Here’s why: 1. It’s good for him. My son is a curious and bright little boy. He enjoys being with us and we enjoy being with him. It would be incredibly unfair to him and his development to limit his life experience to school, the doctors offices and home. To keep him away from public experiences that are tough for him would also perpetuate a cycle of disability rather than ability. My son doesn’t do well in restaurants — the people, sitting, the smells and the noises are all a bit much for him. But if we were to simply cross that off the list of things we do with our son, he would never learn how to handle going to a restaurant. We aren’t taking him to swanky five-star restaurants and expecting him to sit quietly for a two-hour meal. But we do occasionally take him to a family-friendly diner when it isn’t too busy and hope for grace from the staff and other customers. We do take him to the local coffee shop and work on sitting at the table without getting up even if it only lasts five minutes. Sitting at the dinner table at home isn’t good enough practice for sitting in a restaurant, just like gathering items from the cupboard isn’t practice for grocery shopping. The task itself typically isn’t the issue — it’s the environment. The only way for him to get used to being out in the world and overcome some of his anxiety is to get out in the world. It isn’t easy for him, but it’s good for him. 2. It’s good for us. The idea that our family should be held hostage in our home is absurd. Of course, there are days we’d like to go for an outing, but we recognize that it’s a terrible day for it (this could be true for either of our kids) so we stay in. But usually, we do things together whenever possible. On the weekends, we enjoy family time and sometimes that looks a little messy, but it’s good for us to get out together. If we were to hire a sitter for our son every time we wanted to leave the house, it would feel to us that we were no longer treating him as a valued member of the family but as a nuisance. We love him and we love doing things with him. The only way for us to learn how to teach our son life skills and how to manage in different scenarios is through trial and error. One outing might be disastrous, but through it we learned how to be better prepared the next time. This doesn’t downplay the enormous struggle it can be to do outings as a family. Sometimes I am tempted to say it isn’t worth it or it’s just too hard. But it’s good for our family to be stretched and challenged and to get out together. 3. It’s good for the general public. The fact that there are so many people who think our children should be kept out of the public eye is disturbing. It reminds me of a time not so long ago when you simply didn’t see people with special needs out in the community. Why? Because they were institutionalized. People who had so much to offer this world were hidden away because of fear, ignorance, apathy and a lack of compassion and resources. Today we don’t do that because we know better. We know that children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. And we know now that they can be incredible contributions to society just like anyone else. We know now that they have much to offer and teach us. It’s good for the public to get used to seeing people with differences out and about. It’s good for us to see a new way of learning and thinking and doing things. It’s good for us as a society to learn to live together in unity and to encourage each other in our unique gifts and passions. It’s good for us to help each other through times of trouble and to lean on one another for community and support. And one of the ways we do that is by being together, in public, with all kinds of people of all kinds of abilities. So that’s why we take our son to the grocery store, the library, the community pool, the park, the coffee shop, the family diner, Colonial Williamsburg, church, the basketball game and more (even if we only last a little while.) It’s good for him. It’s good for us. And it’s good for you. P.S. Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes we do get a sitter and head out for some much needed kid-free outings. P.P.S. What’s right for us isn’t necessarily what’s right for every autism family. But that’s for each family to decide, not the general public. A version of this post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com. The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “ Share Your Story ” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Casper

To the Mommies Who Get to Raise Little Ones With Special Needs This Mother's Day

You wake up early every morning, and your body is still exhausted from the previous day… week… month… year. You give yourself a pep talk, take a deep breath and swing your legs over the side of the bed. If you’re super lucky, like me, your husband will have already brought up a hot cup of coffee and set it on the nightstand. You head downstairs and mentally prepare yourself for the battles and potential triggers that lay ahead. You keep your voice light as you greet your child. Some mornings you get a big excited bear hug, and other mornings you’re met with silent indifference or an, “I’m busy.” You’ve learned not to take it personally. The rest of the morning is spent getting yourself and your children ready for the day… you administer medications and then brainstorm the best way to get him to brush his teeth. Dressing takes three times as long as you fight your own selfish desire to just dress him yourself to make it go faster, but you know this is a life skill he needs to learn – no matter how long it takes. So you work together, sweating, and help him through it. He wouldn’t eat that morning, but you know that’s not unusual. Still, you feel guilty as you drive him to school on an empty stomach. Come to think of it, you never got a chance to eat either. The day is full — full of phone calls and paperwork and emails. You set up appointments or drive to appointments. You call insurance companies and pick up prescriptions. You read the information given to you about new therapies and programs, and you try to balance your budget to figure out how to make it work. Horse therapy seems amazing and so does swim therapy, but you can’t get the numbers to agree, so you set it aside for another year, another time. Laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, vacuuming, dusting, changing the sheets, mopping and all these things get wedged in somewhere as you have time. Sometimes you don’t, and that’s OK too. At pick-up your heart swells as your child runs out of the school doors to greet you. The teachers tell you about his day, and you are so thankful for him and so very proud of who he is and how hard he works. He sat through the entire school play, and you cry tears of joy on the way home because that was such a big step for him. Later in the afternoon you go from moments of silly fun to calm to panic in less than five minutes. He ran out the front door again, and you didn’t catch up until he was at the end of the street. Sweating and panting you try to explain how dangerous running away is and are met with a confused stare. Back inside you write a note to yourself to install a new specialty lock. That night you’ll wake up in a sweat because you dreamed he ran again, but this time you didn’t hear the door. As you build train tracks he points to a toy and says the word that has been baffling you all week. Ah! Finally you know what he’s been trying to say. Relief sweeps over you as you realize next time he asks for it you’ll know what he wants and won’t have to settle in for an enormous meltdown. You watch him play with his sister as you fix dinner, and your heart swells with joy at the gifts you’ve been given. Another sunset and it’s time to repeat the routine you did that morning – meds, teeth brushing and getting on pajamas. You go through three different shirts because they were either too scratchy or too tight or too… something. His sensory system is rebelling against clothes, but he can’t sleep naked so you try again, and at the end of the whole thing he winds up accepting the first shirt you’d put on him. You carry his tired body up the stairs and read him the same book you’ve read for the last eight nights because he loves the routine and consistency. You turn out the light and lay down… rubbing his back and humming for the next 30-60 minutes… or two hours… however long it takes for his body to settle. You look at his beautiful face, and your heart swells. You kiss his forehead before you tiptoe out of the room. When you make your way downstairs you glance at your to-do list and see that’s it’s not even half finished, but you’re wiped out. Friends have left messages, but they will have to wait for another day. You’re too weary to talk, too weary to do much of anything. So you collapse on the couch and grab a book or the remote and just sit in the peace. If you’re lucky, you have someone sitting next to you… and if you’re really lucky he’ll be rubbing your feet. You head off to bed and say a silent prayer that your door won’t be opened too early in the night by a frightened little boy who can’t sleep without the comfort and safety of your body next to his. You force yourself to turn off your brain as you lay in the dark going over everything that’s still unfinished and undone and waiting. You know you’re going to start over again the next day, and the work will never be done. You also know it’s worth it. You know this is your story too. This story is about him, and it’s about you, and it’s about so many other people whose lives are touched by the little person you get to raise and love. And you know that no matter what anyone else thinks, that all of this – the mentioned and the unmentioned, the hardest things and the most joyful moments – is a gift. Because it’s not that you have to do those things… it’s that you get to the be the one to do them. And you get the front row seat to every miracle. So to you mommies… the ones who get to do so much and feel so much for your little people with extra needs… Happy Mother’s Day. I hope you have people in your life who tell you not just this weekend, but every day, how appreciated and loved you are. You are beautiful. This post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com.

Lauren Casper

Imagine You Are Infertile

Imagine living month after month after month on an emotional roller coaster… hope, expectation, anticipation and crushed dreams yet again. Imagine finally seeing a little plus sign after so many negatives. Imagine the dreams and plans you make. Imagine beginning to put together a nursery and picking out names. Then… Imagine leaving the maternity ward of the hospital with empty arms and an empty womb. Imagine riding the roller coaster of “trying” again while also riding the tidal wave of grief. Imagine each month taunting you and making you feel like a failure. Imagine another purple plus followed by another loss. Imagine enduring invasive, embarrassing, painful and intrusive procedures all in an effort to figure out what’s wrong. Imagine months turning into years. Imagine planning your trips to the store carefully so there’s no chance you have to walk by the baby section. Imagine seeing rounded happy bellies everywhere you turn and feeling a physical ache inside. Imagine receiving a phone call just before Christmas telling you and your husband you will never bear children. Imagine having to celebrate the holidays that year. Imagine finally packing up your maternity clothes to donate, knowing you’ll never need them, sobbing all the while. Imagine having friends announce their first, second and third pregnancies all while you still wait… wondering if you’ll ever be a mother. Imagine missing someone you’ve never even met. Imagine your best friend surprising you with her pregnancy announcement. Imagine going to your car and weeping… and feeling guilty because you did. Imagine listening to mothers complain about their duties while you sit with empty arms and a broken heart. Imagine being asked constantly, “ W hy don’t you have kids yet?” or “When are you two going to have children?” and forwarding the question straight to heaven. Yes, why, God? Imagine being told to just stop thinking about it and it will happen – as if that’s even possible or as if it’s all in your head. Imagine crying on the way home from every single baby shower and trying to reconcile the pain you feel along with the joy you feel for your friends. Imagine always feeling a little left out, a little on the outside looking in, a little not part of the club. Imagine losing hope, giving up and almost losing faith. Imagine God piecing your broken heart back together in a way that never quite beats the same way again. Imagine the bravery, the courage, the strength and the trust it takes to throw out your plans – to give up your dreams – to turn a new way and write a new story. Imagine being told at 30 years old you’ll need a hysterectomy. Imagine grieving the final blow to the tiny flame of hope you’d been holding on to for the last decade. Imagine always feeling just a little bit broken… and that never really going away. I wrote this post in honor of Infertility Awareness Week. This is an updated/edited post of one written a couple years ago. Feel free to share this post to pass it on, and then please come find me on Facebook ! Want to celebrate the human spirit? Like The Mighty on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Lauren Casper

Photos Boy With Autism Took That Show How He Sees the World

Last year around this time I put together  a post of the pictures my son, Mareto, had been taking with my fancy DSLR camera. Every time I dump the photos from my camera to my computer I enjoy going through to find his little treasures. Sometimes I remember him taking specific pictures, but usually they’re all a surprise. It’s a sweet glimpse into life from his perspective. I love seeing what he thinks is important, interesting, valuable and worthy of a picture. *Sign up for our Autism Newsletter* I’m so thankful I decided early on in my children’s lives to say yes whenever possible. Saying yes has given them the space to explore their world and exercise their creativity. Here are some of the latest photos from my sweet 4-year-old. Mommy getting his sister ready for school. VMI cadets marching in an afternoon parade. Visiting Daddy at the office. Sunbeam on the rug. Sister riding next to him in the car. Examining the threads of the carpet. Stunning shot of his sister in the morning light. He caught mommy cleaning up crafts. His favorite smile. Mommy getting out of the car to run a quick errand. He loves watching ceiling fans go around and around. What every true artist needs… a self-portrait (with Mr. Rogers in the background.) This post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com. Do you have a story about your experience with disability or disease? Maybe a moment that made a big impact on you? Please send it to community@themighty.com and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “ Share Your Story ” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Casper

Why My Son Is Not the Face of Autism

“He doesn’t look like he has autism.” “But he seems so normal.” “Oh my kid does that, too.” Trying to advocate for my son while also attempting to raise autism awareness can be a tricky business because my personal experience with autism is limited to one person: Mareto. Yes, I know other children with autism (which wasn’t the case a few years ago), but I don’t know them or have experience with them like I do with my son. So, when I share about autism and parenting a child with autism, it’s from the perspective of Mareto’s mommy. And sharing can be frustrating because often I get responses like the comments above. What do you say to someone who doesn’t think your child looks autistic? Does autism have a look? Yes, I suppose it does. It looks like beautiful brown eyes that sparkle in the light. It looks like a wide smile and a face that lights up with joy over the sight of a train. It also can look frightened and confused and bothered by loud noises. Autism can look like blue eyes or green eyes, blond hair or black hair or brown hair or red hair. Autism can look like eyes that never quite meet your gaze or eyes that have learned to make contact except when overwhelmed or frightened. Autism can look like diapers at 5 or potty trained by 3. Autism can look like flapping and spinning or sitting quietly with an iPad. Have you caught on yet? There is no one look to autism. Did my son seem “normal” to you in the ten minutes you spent with him? Well, that’s nice because he is normal. He’s a sweet, normal, beautiful boy with autism. If you’re trying to tell me that you didn’t notice any signs of autism in your limited experience with him, that’s OK, too. But please keep in mind that Mareto has good days and bad days, and sometimes he has good hours and bad hours. But if what you’re really trying to tell me is that you don’t think he has autism, then please consider how hurtful that might be to us, his parents. Please consider how that might invalidate all our efforts, all our battles and all our triumphs. What you’re really implying is that we’ve wasted all our time for the last two and a half years because he’s just “normal.” Or what about the little girl down the street? The one who doesn’t look or act like my Mareto. Her parents are concerned and have been referred to a specialist to evaluate her for autism. But she couldn’t have autism because she’s so different from my son. She doesn’t share the same struggles or act the same way. She eats just fine, and maybe she’s even potty trained. But she has her own list of quirks, and maybe it is something… but surely not autism. In comparing her to Mareto we make a common mistake. We forget that autism is a spectrum — a wide spectrum of incredible people with varying gifts, interests, looks and struggles. There’s no one look to autism, and there’s no one face of autism. My friend’s son loves fruit, but my son is repelled by it. They both have autism. Her son is a blue-eyed, blond-haired little boy and mine is a brown-eyed, brown-skinned little boy. They both have autism. Sometimes my son makes eye contact, and other days he struggles to meet my gaze. He still has autism in each moment. Sometimes my son will play enthusiastically with other children, and other days he hides in the pantry to escape all the noise and interaction. In each scenario, he still has autism. My son is not the face of autism. But he is one of the many beautiful faces of autism. This post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com.