Lauren Jordan

@lauren-jordan | contributor
Full time mom, part time blogger and fierce autism advocate. I'm a sleepy bad-ass.
Lauren Jordan

To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip. Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days. He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten. His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?” So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me: Dear Lauren, I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home. But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK. Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy…. Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together. Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle. You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own. These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road. Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen. And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me. It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise. With love and all the energy I can muster for you, Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Jordan

To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip. Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days. He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten. His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?” So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me: Dear Lauren, I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home. But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK. Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy…. Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together. Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle. You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own. These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road. Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen. And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me. It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise. With love and all the energy I can muster for you, Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Jordan

To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip. Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days. He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten. His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?” So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me: Dear Lauren, I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home. But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK. Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy…. Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together. Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle. You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own. These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road. Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen. And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me. It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise. With love and all the energy I can muster for you, Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Jordan

To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip. Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days. He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten. His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?” So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me: Dear Lauren, I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home. But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK. Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy…. Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together. Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle. You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own. These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road. Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen. And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me. It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise. With love and all the energy I can muster for you, Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Jordan

To the Mom Whose Son With Autism Is Just Starting Kindergarten

My husband Sean left yesterday for a business trip. Basically, in the next month, he will only be home for about five days. He used to travel like this all the time — he worked in a different state and was gone Monday through Friday. The only difference was that our boys were much younger — this was 10 years ago. And our oldest, TJ, diagnosed with autism at age 2, had just started kindergarten. His traveling got me thinking how different things are now from that stressful time so long ago. It was hard to hold it together day-to-day back then. And I thought, “What would I tell that Lauren 10 years ago, if I could, to help her get through such a tough time?” So I thought I would write a letter to 10-years-ago me: Dear Lauren, I know how you’re feeling! It’s so hard to send TJ off to kindergarten after three years of all his autism services being at home. It’s hard to let go of that control and not know what he is doing, and how he is doing, throughout his day. And it’s really hard to do this all alone while Sean is working, and with our other son Peter still at home. But let me tell you something: Everything is going to be OK. Here’s advice from someone who knows 1. what you find to be the most difficult about all of this, and 2. what will happen in the next 10 years that you can’t see right now while you are so busy…. Breathe. Letting go of TJ is hard, but you are handing him over to the most capable, loving people at school, who will do everything they can to help him learn and grow. And here’s a little secret…. these amazing people will stay in your lives long after you leave this school, and they will love hearing about how TJ is doing, and how he is growing into a capable, flexible, independent young man. He is in good hands. Take the time at home with Peter, and give him the focus you couldn’t give him when you were so busy with all of TJ’s services. This is his time with you, and it will go so, so quickly. You two are about to make some wonderful memories together. Brace yourself. Now that TJ is in school, a whole slew of new issues will come up that you and your school team will have to handle. But handle it you all will. Try to remember that every new issue that arises is a new opportunity for TJ to grow and learn.  Change is difficult. Struggle means progress. And these big issues now, like TJ learning how to handle the noise of an assembly or the lunchroom, are temporary. I promise. The work you all do now will pay off later. And you will be amazed what this kid of yours can handle. You are not Superwoman, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a really hard time. There is extra pressure on you to be everything for everyone with Sean on the road. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not always be OK. It takes a strong person to admit she needs help.  You have three wonderful personal care assistants (PCA), hired by me and paid for by the state through a grant — use them. They are wonderful ladies — they love your boys and they love you. They see your struggle. They can help. They are there for you to take time for yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be. You will lean on them, you will rely on them and you will love them, as they will become family. Like TJ’s teachers, they will remain in your life, even as they leave to start new lives of their own. These relationships you are making today will last a lifetime. It will be hard to say goodbye to them, but more wonderful PCAs are waiting for you to open that door to them. You won’t always have these wonderful people, so enjoy the time they give you, the help they give you and the love they give to you and your boys. Learning to take care of yourself now will help you farther down the road. Take a lot of video of these growing boys! I know you are overwhelmed a lot of the time, and with Sean gone so much, time seems to drag. Trust me, it will soon fly by and you will soon look back in amazement at how much time has passed. These boys won’t be little forever, and you will miss those little voices. Before you know it, they will be teenagers with huge feet, deep voices, and they will be taller than you! I know it feels far away, but it isn’t. Cherish these little guys while they are little. Play. Laugh. Sing those annoying little songs. They will be happy for those childhood memories you give them. And you will be amazed at how much and how fast TJ will progress — you will need that video footage to remind you of how far you all have come! I know you can’t see it now, but trust me, it will happen. And finally, 10-years-ago-Lauren, don’t forget to take chances. Push TJ to do things you don’t think he can do. He may struggle at first, and you may doubt yourself, too, but in time, he will be capable of things you never thought he could do. He will be able to walk home from school all by himself one day. I know! It’s hard to believe, right? Seems impossible? It isn’t. And all the work you all are doing now will make things like this possible. Oh, and those kids in his class? They like TJ now, but they will love him when he is older. Yes, social things with other kids will remain something he has trouble with. But it’s made easier by these kids who will remember being in kindergarten with him and learning with him. They will take him under their wing and give him a confidence that will serve him so well. He knows they enjoy him, and he enjoys them too, in his own way. He will even make new friends in middle school! You know, that really scary time you are terrified of? These amazing kids will make it so much easier on him. Trust me. It’s a lot of work, 10-years-ago-Lauren, but please know it is worth it. You all will get through this difficult time, I promise. With love and all the energy I can muster for you, Older (and wiser, let’s face it) Lauren Lauren, her husband Sean and their two sons TJ and Peter Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lauren Jordan

When My Autistic Son Graduated From High School

WOW. I knew my son T.J.’s high school senior spring was going to be busy. But honestly, I had no idea how busy it would really be. T.J. is autistic. And for most high school seniors, spring is a time of nervous energy as they prepare for the closing of one big chapter of life and prepare for the next big chapter of life. I remember my senior spring — the anticipation of starting college and leaving behind the only world I knew was often overwhelming. That alone is a challenge for my guy. Times of emotional upheaval have proven to be challenging in the past, overwhelming his entire body at times. So now imagine throwing in an interview for entrance into a local independent living program. And turning 18. And going to court with us regarding guardianship, because he is turning 18. And filling out stacks of paperwork and interviews for financing for adult services. And a driving evaluation determining if it’s safe for him to be a driver. And preparing for final exams and graduation. I tell you, I’m overwhelmed just looking at the list. And I lived it. In the early spring, knowing all the different tasks that lay before us, we decided to approach each one with as much lighthearted calm as we could. T.J. is like a sponge and readily absorbs any tension around him. We were determined to control this aspect of our situation as best we could, knowing that if we showed him we were OK with everything happening, our boy would take our lead. Our first task was to ask T.J. if he wanted to stay in high school until he was 21. Under the law he is entitled to, and many kids with autism do. “No way! My class is graduating! I want to graduate, too!” So now, knowing how important this graduation was to him, the rest of our planning was pretty much laid out for us. Paperwork and interview dates were scheduled with our local social services agency to secure financing for adult services. I felt the same way I did when he was first diagnosed with autism, faced with a new world of options and lingo. A huge thanks to our local organization, The Howard Center, who answered our many questions and helped us understand this new process of services available to adults with autism in Vermont. Every call got returned, every question got answered (sometimes more than once, I was that overwhelmed), and every tear of mine was met with understanding from them. I am so grateful. Next, T.J. was turning 18. He would be a legal adult. But while his is physically 18 years old, he is much younger than that in some aspects. Medical decisions for him are made under our guidance. He doesn’t make his own doctor appointments or schedule his own prescription refills. Finances remain a muddled mystery to him. These are things we have dabbled with together in teaching him, but his skills are nowhere near where they need to be for complete independence. Something to work towards, we all decide together. So for now, T.J., Sean my husband, and I all decide together to pursue voluntary guardianship. T.J. can revoke it himself at any time. We have always been a team regarding big decisions, and this one is no different. He was great in court. He told me that he learned how not to talk to a judge by watching “The Simpsons.” I didn’t know why he had his little grin on court day, but now I know. So the next thing to tackle was driving. He was enrolled in Driver’s Ed in the fall and took an incomplete in the class after we met with the instructor, who was concerned whether or not T.J. had the ability to process all the information one needs to properly be a safe driver. We met with an Occupational Therapist who evaluates individuals with disabilities for driving. During his computer driving simulation, after T.J. hit a bicyclist on the computer screen, the writing was pretty much on the wall regarding this one. But I was concerned about the impact of being told to wait a few years to be a driver would have on his mental well-being and self confidence. We talked about it a lot during the lead up to the driving evaluation, so when we were told he needs to wait a few years to try driving again, he simply said, “It’s OK. It’s just not for me right now. I can find other ways to get around.” That’s my boy. Next was his interview for a local independent living program. T.J. met with a panel of five different people in the organization, and I was surprised when they invited me to the panel interview as well. Now this one was a huge lesson for me. For some reason, I had my heart set on him getting into this program. Maybe it my nagging need for “normalcy” in terms of next steps: after high school comes college. That’s what was true for me and the world I grew up in. But I should know by now that the universe has a way of everything working out just as it should, and if I am so stuck on an idea of how I think things “should be,” that is the exact time I will be taught a very big lesson on how things really are. T.J. did a great job in the interview. He happily and willingly answered his questions. A few times he looked to me for answers, and I told him “this is all you, buddy. Answer however you feel is true to your heart.” He did. And his answers showed me pretty quickly that maybe he wasn’t ready for independent living away from home quite yet. So when I received word that T.J. did not get in to the program, but rather was waitlisted, my heart broke a little. But T.J.’s didn’t. So as I quickly realized how selfish I was being, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and followed my son’s lead. Together we talked about what our next steps would be. “It’s just a zig zag, mom.” T.J. told me. A “zig zag” is how we have described unexpected curve balls that fall into our laps. It’s not a worse or better situation we find ourselves in — it is just an unexpected one. So OK. Time for plan B. And the Universe would once again show me that plan B really was plan A all along. T.J. was working at TJMaxx through the high school’s employment program. They notified us that they wanted to hire T.J. after graduation for part time work. Our plan for T.J.’s next steps was starting to take shape. T.J. was struggling with his academics in high school. The higher his grade level, the more challenges he faced taking tests and organizing his work. We decided together that a full college schedule would be too much for T.J. to deal with on top of all of his other life transitions, and decided on looking in to an art class and an “introduction to college” class at the local community college. So much less pressure for our boy, a great opportunity for learning about life in a college environment, and a great opportunity for success and self confidence as he enters adulthood. He will live at home and work with a helper to learn how to use public transportation to get him between home, and work, and college. Whew! His next year is suddenly set! And seeing how excited and positive he is about it reassures me that everything is just as it should be. We will re-apply to the independent living program in a year, or maybe two… who knows? Our next steps will come to us as we go along. So now the path was cleared for preparing for T.J.’s high school graduation. He just had to get through his final exams first. T.J. worked hard, and it was a lot of work for him. He showed signs of stress, but in his determination to graduate with his class he calmed himself down, and focused on his continued hard work. As exam week approached, and as T.J.’s exam schedule got sorted out, he happily reported that aside from in class projects and a couple of tests to be taken in class, his only exam was the first day. He had the rest of the week off. His dedication and hard work paid off. He beamed, he was so proud. So did I. Finally, it was the day of his graduation rehearsal. He did not have a helper available to go with him, so I decided I would be a fly on the wall and sit in the back of the rehearsal, gathering the same information that T.J. was getting, and filling in any blanks for him if he missed anything. He found his seat. He followed the instructions for the procession. Then, all of a sudden, I realized they were calling everyone across the stage by name, to ensure proper pronunciation. I watched with my jaw dropped as I saw so many kids I knew crossing that stage. Kids from T.J.’s kindergarten. Kids from the fourth grade play. Kids from his “lunch bunch” with his speech therapist. Kids who were friends with Peter and always had a fondness for Peter’s older brother. Kids whose parents were my friends. Kids we have known forever. Kids who all have touched our lives in one way or another over the years. Kids who are woven into the story of T.J.’s growth and success and struggles and triumphs and challenges over all the years he has been in school. Whether they knew it or not. They were all a part of his getting here. When they called “Thomas James Jordan,” my sweet boy smiled like I have never seen. And these kids, forever a part of T.J.’s story, cheered. T.J. threw his hands up in the air with double V for victory. I have never seen him stand so tall, smile so wide, and walk with such confidence as he did crossing that stage. And suddenly, with my hands covering my mouth in utter surprise, I cried. The tears just poured. T.J. and Peter’s friend, and fellow graduate, Meredith, saw me and ran over to me with arms outstretched for a hug. She has always had a soft spot for T.J., and has always been one of his biggest supporters. She is a lovely girl, and anyone who loves my T.J. like that is my friend for life. She wrapped me up a huge hug and said, “Your boy is graduating! Look at him! He did it!” I nodded and cried, completely unable to say a word. He did it. After all his years of hard work, and after all our years of hard work as a family, he did it. Remember, folks, this was just rehearsal. Graduation was the next day. The next morning, with out of town family gathering and the hubbub of activity that goes along with it, T.J. confidently and calmly prepared himself for his day. He was so patient as his little cousins scampered around and got ready. He put on his cap and gown, with his blue and gold tassel, and stood taller than I have ever seen him stand. He radiated confidence as he said, “See you guys soon!” and walked himself into the school where the seniors were meeting for the procession. I was a ball of excited energy as we, the audience, gathered in the ice rink where the ceremony was taking place. We got great seats where I would be able to see the graduates after they got their diplomas and walked back to their seats. When they called his name, this time for real, I didn’t cry. I cheered. Loud and proud, with so many of his classmates and teachers doing the same. He gave us all the double V for victory again, with an even bigger smile than he did at rehearsal, and then, in his excitement, he jumped off the ramp off the stage with his arms flung in the air in complete joy. It was one of the most precious moments of my life. T.J. had his sideways grin on his face as he walked up the aisle back to his seat. It got bigger when he saw his dad taking video of him. And then he saw me, and reached out his arms. I of course was only too happy to jump out of my chair and hug my boy. My grown, brave, smart, resilient, proud, graduating boy. It was a perfect day with family, friends, food, and fun. It was T.J.’s day, and he was only as social as he wanted to be, making appearances as he wanted and having alone time as he needed. He was happy. So were we. After such a busy spring, filled with challenging decisions, new situations, a bunch of “nos” and a bunch of “yeses,” a perfect graduation day was just the thing to close out his high school career. And this senior spring taught us all that if we take each challenge and each decision as a team, following T.J.’s lead as he follows his heart, with some parent pushes as necessary, our amazing autistic boy will find his way. And he will do just fine.

Lauren Jordan

Letter to My Autistic Son on His 18th Birthday

Happy 18th birthday T.J.! My sweet boy, you have been counting down the days to your 18th birthday since January 1st and it’s finally here! In honor of your big day, I wanted to make sure you know a few things about how I feel raising such an amazing kid. You made us parents. Your dad and I are so proud of you. I know we tell you that all the time, and even typing it now I hear your response of: “I know, Mom” in my head. I hope you really do know, T.J. When I went to college, and after, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Except a mom. That’s been the only thing I knew I was meant to do. When you were born, we were filled with a new kind of love and joy that we hardly knew how to contain ourselves. Every day, even the frustrating ones that all new parents have, was filled with wonder and love at watching you grow. So much so that we decided to give you a brother before you were a year and a half old! And even though you didn’t want much to do with Peter when he was little, your dad and I are so happy with the relationship you two have now. There is a bond between you that cannot be broken, and that is completely separate from anything your dad and I can understand. We always say the best thing we ever did for both of you was to give you each other. May that bond of love and protection continue throughout your lives together as you share all of life’s ups and downs. Even if life takes you far away from each other, I know that you and Peter will always be together. When you were diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, T.J., I was scared. I thought I had this parenting thing all figured out (ha!) and this threw a major wrench into our plans. I wanted you to have every chance and opportunity that every other kid had, and I didn’t want you to miss out on anything. But what you have taught me over these 18 years is that it is not my right or place to have any expectations over anything you do or become. Yes, it is my job to raise you to be kind and loving and open and strong and confident. That, I can do — I have done, and am doing. But the rest of it is up to you. It is your right to show the world who you are at your core. It is your right to be the best T.J. you can be, exploring your interests and deciding how you want to live your adult life. I want you to find your joy, your heart and your soul, and I will support you in any direction that takes you. This I promise wholeheartedly. How silly for me to have thought I had any say in who you are to become! True, we have had many “zig zags” along the way. We had to figure out how to handle your anxiety issues and sensory issues. We had to figure out what your biggest weaknesses are and how to help you accommodate those into your every day life. But we also got to witness you come into your own as a happy, funny, young man who loves to make people laugh. Who loves art and makes the most beautiful pieces with the most glorious colors. Who loves animals and wants to find someone to talk to him about his sadness over the rhino poachers. Who finds such happiness in drawing Power Rangers, cutting them out, and using the cut out for hours re-enacting movies. I watch you in awe of your beautiful brain and beautiful heart. You have so many incredible gifts, and I am so excited to see where these desires and interests lead you. I will do everything I can, T.J., to help you get where you want to be. That is a forever promise. T.J., you have taught me that hard work really does pay off. Over these 18 years this has been one of the things I have seen you work on time and time again. Remember when you started high school, and any homework that you had to do created so much turmoil? You worked so hard to handle those feelings bit by bit. I know you still hate homework, but you have learned that if you want the good grade, the homework and studying must be done. Your continued work on doing things that you don’t want to do, and your patience with this process, amazes and inspires me. You went through a lot of really uncomfortable times, knowing that the hard work would pay off. It really has, T.J.! I am so proud of what you have accomplished in high school! And whatever comes next, I am so excited to see the results of your hard work. You have surprised me time and time again at your resilience and flexibility. You have been an amazing example to me of what it means to truly enjoy a moment. Sometimes that is all we have. You have shown me how to slow down, breathe and truly be present in the “right now.” When I get caught up in the busyness of my everyday life, I try to think of you at an aquarium or a zoo — quietly studying the natural state of things right before your eyes, filled with a contentment that so many struggle to gain. Me included. You are a wonderful example to all who know you to be where you are. Such a valuable lesson, even for an old lady like me! I think the most important thing you have taught me is to not be afraid. This is a tough one for me, my sweetie. As your mom, I have been on guard, ready to be anything you need me to be. Your protector. Your advocate. Your voice. Your strength. Your teacher. Well, now that you are 18, my job in these roles has greatly lessened. I am your mom, and will always be at the ready to jump into any of these roles at any time, but the need for me to do so is so much less than it used to be. This scares the crap out of me. Not because you are not capable, but because sometimes, I let fear decide how I am going to feel. You don’t. Well, not as much anymore, anyway. You have a confidence that I wish I had at your age — heck, at my age! You have worked so hard at being the best T.J. you can be for so long, that you really have an admirable understanding of yourself I haven’t seen before. You are who you are and you like what you like, and you don’t care what anyone thinks about it. If you could bottle that attribute, you’d be a gazillionaire! Leaving high school, you are about to begin a new phase of your life, one where you will be faced with so many changes. I am scared. But I am scared in the same way I was scared when I watched you walk down the hall to Kindergarten for the first time. I have watched you tackle obstacle after obstacle, with an open mind and an open heart. I know there are a lot of new challenges coming up, but I also know that you will face these with a strength and confidence that inspires me to do the same. I know you will be fine, one way or another, and that obstacles are just another opportunity for me to learn something about myself. You taught me that. Finally, my dear T.J., I want you to know you are so, so loved. You have a way of making people smile everywhere you go. I am so lucky that I get to be your mom. Being your and Peter’s mom is my biggest honor and my greatest joy. Thank you for being you and for opening my world up to so much more than I ever could have imagined. I love you, T.J., so very much. Happy birthday! Love forever, Mom

Lauren Jordan

How to Support a Child on the Autism Spectrum During the Holidays

This time of year can be chaotic. That time between Thanksgiving and Christmas? In our family, we find ourselves running around trying to recover from one holiday and gear up for the next. My son T.J. is 16 and has autism spectrum disorder. Over the years, some of our holidays have been seamless, and others challenging. We have had to find what works for our family and tweak it year after year as different locations, people and changes in T.J. himself affect him. This year, both T.J. and his brother Peter, 15, had the entire Thanksgiving week off from school. Thank you, school district, for those extra few days! The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we drove from our home in Vermont to my sister’s home in Boston. My sister and her husband have four kids, and the cousins all really love each other. But get those kids together, and the noise level definitely goes up a notch or 12. T.J. has learned over time to find a quiet spot for himself in my sister’s house and retreat there when he needs a break. Everyone is very accepting of whatever T.J. needs to do to be OK with the increase in activity and noise. No problem. Thanksgiving day comes along, and we all pile into cars to caravan to our cousin’s house in Connecticut. Our Thanksgiving crew has grown as our families have grown, and we are quite the loving, rowdy, laughing, fun-filled bunch! It’s really a wonderful group of family, filled with love and understanding for our T.J., who finds his own coping mechanisms each year. This year, he spent a lot of time with his iPad and headphones, with breaks in between, and not only was Thanksgiving day a huge success for our noise-sensitive guy, he even stood up and made the most beautiful toast at the beginning of the feast. It brought me to tears, as he expressed his love for his family. The day after Thanksgiving was another wonderful one back in Boston, seeing the wonderful family who could not make it to the feast in Connecticut. It was a little more low-key than Thanksgiving day, but still filled with activity. T.J. did a great job, and we all had a wonderful time. On Saturday, as we drove home to Vermont, I reflected on T.J. and his behavior over the past few days. I beamed as I thought of how far he has come — he no longer has meltdowns during the holiday as he has figured out what works best for him, and we have all supported his coping skills during the chaos of travel and people. I felt so proud. My husband Sean reminded me as we drove that we needed to stop at the outlets to try to find some new jeans for our constantly growing boys. We knew it would be hectic, as the outlets would be filled with holiday shoppers, but we also knew desperate times call for desperate measures. So we stopped. Long story short, we knew the crowds might be too much for T.J., so we decided to try on jeans for sizing purposes only and order them online after we got home. What I didn’t know, and what Peter told me later, is that T.J. was muttering curse words under his breath the entire time we were there. He was really stressed out and holding it together by a thread. When we finally got home, T.J. exhibited some strong words and signs of anger. The only one who could get through to him and help calm him down was his brother Peter. After T.J. and Peter were both settled in back at home, I wondered how I could have missed it. Here I was, walking around without realizing that brewing beneath the surface of my sweet T.J. was a stressed out boy struggling with some of the challenges brought about by his autism. How had I forgotten the years past when my focus was so keenly placed on how T.J. was doing? How had I forgotten his ability to cope with noise, activity and stress is finite? Throughout the years, we have learned what T.J. needs in order to be comfortable in even the most busy environments. A quiet space for a quick retreat, if possible. Earplugs — I always have a stash in my purse. Deep breaths. Shoulder squeezes — tight ones. Back scratches. And worst-case scenario, leaving the area to collect ourselves. I have learned I need to check in with him frequently, especially in very active and busy situations. But now that he is older, we are teaching him to take the lead in his own self-care. Letting us know when he is feeling tense. Asking for the squeezes or scratches that he needs. Asking to leave the area if need be. Advocating for his own well-being. This is the latest and, I believe, one of the most important things for T.J. to learn. Advocating for his own well-being. We reiterate that taking care of yourself is a critical part of growing up. Asking for what you need to be OK does not make you a “bad kid” or a rule-breaker. It makes you human. This will take time for all of us to get used to. There is no overnight “fix” for these challenging situations. But with attention to the matter, room for error, and love behind all of it, we know he will learn just what he needs to do for himself to be OK. And I couldn’t be more proud of him. Live and learn. Every day. I hope you all enjoy your holidays with your families just as much as I look forward to enjoying my holidays with mine. With patience, love, respect, room for error and flexibility! And cookies. Lots of cookies. Lead image via Thinkstock. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Lauren Jordan

Autism and Driver's Education

My son TJ is 16. He has autism. He is starting his junior year and so excited to be halfway done with high school – a thought that, as his mother, makes me a little panicky. But I digress. On Monday we got his schedule for the new school year in the mail.  He was so excited to open it!  And the first class on his first day was Driver’s Ed. Driver’s Ed. Did I mention I get a little panicky? No matter, because I studied theater in college, so whenever I have that parent panic, I go instantly into actress mode, and do my best “I am so easy breezy it’s not even funny” type of mother acting. It usually works quite well. It worked well this time, too, which is good, because when big things come up for TJ that we need to work through, I don’t want him to be influenced by me in any way. So when I saw “Driver’s Ed” on his schedule, I smiled and said “TJ, you got Driver’s Ed!  That’s great!  So many kids want that class and don’t get it!” It’s a hot commodity, this class. You can register for it after you’re 15 years old and you can’t get your license without it, unless you wait until you’re over 18. And if memory serves, not many kids want to wait until they are 18 to start driving. TJ’s first reaction was to smile and say, “Great!” And then I said to him, “TJ, in order to take this class, you have to have your learner’s permit. We can sign you up to take the test in about a week or two, but you’ll have to study for it. How does that make you feel?” TJ scrunched his nose a little and said, “I don’t know.” I know that “I don’t know.” It’s usually a sign of nerves. So I told him to just look through the rest of his schedule, and we can talk about it later. The next day, I asked TJ how he was feeling about the whole Driver’s Ed thing.  Again, I got an “I don’t know.” So I suggested we go to the DMV web page and check out their informational videos about driving. He sat through about half of the video when he said, “Can I stop now?” Inside, I’m thinking that our planning time is running out. If he is going to take the class in 3 weeks, he needs to take his permit exam in 2 weeks, which means he has to start studying. But not today. I gave him one more day to think things through. Finally, the next day, I sat down with TJ. Time to get serious. “TJ, I know you’re feeling a little nervous about driving. Are you feeling rushed to get your permit?” “Yes.” “Would you like to drop the class this semester, and take your time getting your permit? We can try to get the class another time. Even next year, if you’re not ready yet. It’s OK. And it’s up to you.” With that, he seemed instantly lighter. He thought for a second, then said to me, “I think I’d like to wait.” And as soon as I said OK, he breathed out deeply and said, “Boy do I feel better!” And then, that smile. My TJ is on his own schedule. He always has been. He learned to ride his bike long after his little brother did. He didn’t feel comfortable walking home from school alone until late in his freshman year. And the first time he saw the dentist without me was yesterday. So even though he is already 16, and many of his peers have their driver’s license, my TJ will wait. He will take his sweet time until it feels right for him. And that’s a-OK by me. And now, he can’t wait for school to start.

Lauren Jordan

One Mom's Take on the Puzzle Piece Symbol for Autism Awareness

I used to love puzzles. What a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday, going to and from a really tough puzzle and loving that feeling of satisfaction when it’s finally done. Then leaving it on the table to be admired, at least for a little bit. I’m now the mom of a child with autism, and puzzles don’t really do it for me. I find I just don’t have the patience anymore — my patience is otherwise used for my kids. Which brings me to that dang puzzle piece symbol for autism. It never really bothered me before, until I really started thinking about it. Some autism organizations use the puzzle piece symbol for autism awareness with the tag line, “Until all the pieces fit.” Well, tagline creators, I’ve got some news for you. Those pieces? They will never all fit. That puzzle will never be completed. You never get that feeling of satisfaction upon completion. Now before you all get riled up, hear me out. Parenting — no matter if you parent a neurotypical child or a child like my TJ, who has autism — is a journey. There is no ending. “Until all the pieces fit” contains the hope that eventually all those pieces, even the toughest ones, will fit into a nice, neat puzzle that you can stand back and admire. For many of us, just as soon as we have figured out one tricky part of the puzzle, another one can pop up. Or maybe a year after we thought we had resolved an issue, it re-presents itself in a new form, maybe slightly different from its original presentation, but needs to be addressed all over again. Parenting is fluid. Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t? Can you imagine finally finding out how that last little bugger of a puzzle piece fits into the whole picture, and you have laid before you a beautiful portrait that you have been waiting to see in its completion? Yeah — not gonna happen. Please, don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of amazing moments in parenting: moments of celebrating successes, solving problems, connecting to your child’s journey and life in a real and meaningful way. Joys. Sorrows. Ups and downs. See? Fluid. Instead of that puzzle piece, I like to picture something more like one of those desktop wave machines. Rocking back and forth, beautiful blues and greens, ebbing and flowing. And always in motion. Without an end. So in theory, that puzzle piece works for many, I get it. And I’m all for anything that increases autism awareness and acceptance in the world. But for me, for my family, for my boys with unique ways of living in this world, give me a wave machine any day. Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.