Stacey Rushing

@stacey-rushing | contributor
Stacey Rushing

Wife Thanks Husband for Being an 'Autism Daddy'

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. As I stare at a random picture of our wedding day, I think back to how much we still did not know about each other. Over a decade has passed, and he constantly surprises me by revealing the depth of his character to our girls and me each and every day. I have asked him from time to time if he knew how our life was going to turn out would he still have said, “I do.” He never misses a beat and always says, “best decision I ever made.” To understand how deep my appreciation and love for this man is, you would have to know his background. I met my husband when he was already a combat veteran assigned to the 3rd Ranger Battalion. He was built like a brick and had a no nonsense Ranger attitude. He was a serious, competitive and determined person. Physical fitness was of the utmost importance to him, and he strived for excellence in everything he would do. He was a complete gentleman towards me, and for the first time in my life I felt cherished by a man. We only dated six months before he asked me to marry him, I immediately said yes. Five years later my husband was knocking out every bit of his five-year plan he set forth before we were married. When it was time, we tried to start a family. We got pregnant easily with our first daughter, Gabby. When she was born, my husband was just starting his new career as a Federal Agent for the U.S. Government. He was working nonstop. The drive in him to provide well for our little family pushed him to take every available overtime job. He wanted me to stay home with our new baby girl and care for her. He was adamant about shouldering the complete financial burden of our family. He and I both knew something was different with our little girl right from the start. To say our child was fussy would be an understatement. She would not sleep and would scream day and night until she would pass out from exhaustion. The only way to comfort her was to rock her incessantly or drive her around in a car. This lasted for two years. When she started missing all her milestones, we took her to a therapy center. Some time passed before they gave us her diagnosis. She is on the autism spectrum, and has ADHD, anxiety, panic Disorder and lack of coordination. When he received the news I knew deep down he felt devastated, but outwardly you would have never known. He thanked the medical professionals who gave us the news, scooped his daughter up and drove us home. In the weeks and months that followed, he held our family together. While I struggled, he kept going like nothing had changed. The only reason I knew it had affected him was when I would find him in his office late at night reading the internet about “ways to improve a life for an autistic child.” I always say he took the autism diagnosis on the chin. He never faltered or wavered. He would talk to anyone he met about our little girl. He was proud as punch about her being able to finally successfully complete a feat a neuotypical child may have done years earlier. This incredibly competitive man was tickled when his daughter could finally ride a trike instead of a bike with training wheels. His patience and understanding for our little girl has been humbling to watch. He is a proud autism daddy. While he normally wears a North Face t-shirt, every once in a while I see him sporting a shirt with a puzzle piece on it. He will enter races for charity to support Autism Speaks and any other disability-related cause. He is a favorite at my daughter’s autism school, bringing in truckloads of snacks for the kids monthly. He smiles and gets down to their level and always makes each and every one of them feel special. He talks about ways to increase his retirement pension to be able to provide for our daughter in the future. He constantly throws out ideas about how, if we win the lottery, we could buy property and build facilities to teach and educate children and adults with disabilities about life-skills, fitness and education. Although the statistics say a marriage is much more likely to end in divorce if you have a child with a disability, he has constantly shown me his sticking power. His word is his bond, and he has no intention of ever wavering. Our marriage is far from perfect. If anything, it’s perfectly flawed. We are just two imperfect people who have never quit on each other. Even when I have wavered, he has carried our family on his broad shoulders forward. I am truly blessed to be married to this man, and our daughters are extremely lucky to have him as a father. You don’t read many stories about fathers who are going above and beyond to care for their disabled daughter. You often hear about mothers who are soldiering forward, carrying the weight of special needs parenting all by themselves. Mothers are usually the focus of stories about special needs parenting. So I wanted to share with you our story in hopes that it will shed light on other fathers and males who have taken up the role of autism daddy — the parents like my husband, who are doing it so well.

Stacey Rushing

When a Woman Accused Us of Stealing a Handicapped Placard

It’s Saturday and again I’m trying to sneak out of my house to go to the store alone. It’s a habit I have and I imagine most mothers have because we’re trying to spend the weekend getting things done as quickly as possible. I’m rounding my SUV when I hear the garage door open and out runs my little 5-year-old. She asks, “Where you goin’, Mom? Where you goin?” I told her, “Hobby Lobby. Do you want to go or stay with Daddy?” I know the answer even before she speaks. Her face brightens and she gets a megawatt smile on her face and says, “I come wit you, Mom!” Were moving in the next two weeks, so our house is in disarray. It’s been raining all week and she’s been stuck inside. I think to myself that I should take her by the craft section to see if I can find an activity that will entertain her while I finish packing the living room. She’s been a trooper for the last few weeks, living among the boxes and missing some of her favorite things. She’s weathered this transition pretty well. We pull up and find a handicapped spot right at the front. It can be extremely windy in Amarillo, Texas and today is no different. It’s gusting at 40 mph and I know before we get out I have to warn her that it’s going to be windy and to put on her ear protection. I get out, making sure I have two hands on her door before I open it. We start walking toward the store. I’m stopped immediately by an elderly lady and her husband who are about to get into their car. She says, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Look at you, two perfectly healthy beings, using up a handicapped spot. You know it’s not right to steal your grandmother’s handicapped placard just so you can park close. It’s horribly windy today and the elderly could use that spot you’re parked in.” I wait patiently until she’s done and mentally remind myself to be polite. This is a lady who believes handicapped placards are only for the elderly. I smile at her even though I’m irritated, a practice I learned in the deep south of Georgia, and say, “You’re correct, I am perfectly healthy and would gladly walk a mile to the store, but my daughter can’t.” I pull Gabby forward slightly and say, “Do you want to question her about her disability or would you be able to take my word for it that we got that sticker honestly?” I can see it in her scowl, she’s immediately taken aback because she’s being pushed to question a 5-year-old about her disability. Then she looks at me and I can tell she wants me to explain how my daughter is affected, but I won’t. I hold strong and stare at her, letting her know that I won’t fill her head with gossip. As Gabby has gotten older, I no longer feel like it’s my place explain her diagnosis or experiences to every stranger. She looks back and forth between us, and I can see the questions and accusations on her face. I hold my tongue as long as possible and say, “If the parking police is done for the day, we’d like to go about our shopping.” Her husband must have finally gotten annoyed with her or just sick of waiting there and finally said to her, “Get in the damn car, Alice, with your judgmental self.” I smile brightly at her husband and he gives me a wink. I start to pull Gabby forward and she says, “What’s hand-capt ?” I answer quickly and say, “Special.” She keeps walking and looks back up at me and says, “What’s special?” I stop and turn to her, staring smiling down into her beautiful big brown eyes and say, “You!” The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook. And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Stacey Rushing

Mom of Child With Autism Overhears Rude Comment to Special Needs Mom

It’s Saturday, and despite the noise and the crowds, I am going to have to tackle Walmart. We desperately need food, and now that I work all week, I have become a weekend shopper just like everyone else. I try to sneak out of the house and I am just rounding my SUV when the garage door quickly opens. My 5-year-old runs out with her purse slung across her body and says, “I come wit you, Mom!” It’s not a question — it’s more of a statement. I know I am not going to get out of taking her with me. My daughter, Gabby, has autism, sensory processing disorder, anxiety and panic disorder. A trip to Walmart is extremely hard for her to handle, hence my trying to sneak out. I strap her in, and we are on our way. She is watching “Tangled” on the car television. I lower the volume and say, “It’s going to be really loud and busy today at the store. You are going to have to hang in there with me today, OK, baby?” She does not respond, but I look back in the rearview mirror and see her nodding her sweet head. We pull in and find a handicapped spot available — a rarity on a Saturday. I excitedly pull my girl out of the car and make sure I have a good grasp on her arm even before her little feet hit the pavement. We make our way through the crowded parking lot and finally get into the store. I was just wiping down the basket when my daughter starts to do a little dance with her feet, grabs her shorts and says a bit to loudly, “I gotta go potty, Mom! Right now!” I abandon our cart and hurry her to the ladies’ restroom. I come to a stop when I see a lady standing in the doorway trying to see when the restroom is clear. She backs away from the door with a sigh. I look over her head to see an extremely tall, large teenager. He has headphones on and is doing a little dance on his big feet himself. I said to her, “If you guys need to go, please do. We need to use the restroom, too, and I have no problem with you guys using the handicapped bathroom.” She gives me a relieved smile and says, “I always try to clear the bathroom out before bringing him in, but today we just can’t catch a break.” I squeezed her arm and respond, “We’re in the same boat. It’s just easier because she is a girl, and it won’t look strange when I am dragging her to the bathroom when she is 17.” She looks down at my daughter and says, “Autism?” I tell her, “Yes, among other things. You guys come on in. We are on the same team.” She grabs her son’s hand and drags him to the handicap stall. I can hear her explaining the process to her son, probably something she has done a million times. We are finishing up and washing our hands when a woman bursts into the bathroom. She immediately stops when she sees the large guy washing his hands and looks at our group and gives us the stank-eye. She starts to walk forward but then stops and spins back around. She looks at us and says, “That’s ridiculous. He is old enough to use the men’s restroom.” The other mother looks immediately defeated. I turn to the stranger and, facing her straight on, I say, “Our babies are going to use the restroom with us for the rest of our lives. Do you really think if there was another option that we would be using this restroom? If by any chance there was a family restroom, I can guarantee she would have used it. Instead of just walking through, you had to give us your two cents and make her feel bad.” The lady immediately noticed the young man wearing a Sponge Bob T-shirt and headphones, and she seemed to fully comprehend the reason he is in the ladies bathroom. I have to give it to her, though. Instead of just going about her business, she turns to the boy’s mother and, offering an apology, says, “I didn’t know.” Just like that, we are done and walking back toward the baskets. We are each grabbing our carts and our children when she smiles brightly at me and we hug. She pulls back and says, “Thanks for that. I have stopped defending us lately, and it was nice to have someone else be on our team for once.” We chatted for a few minutes and then took our children in opposite directions. Being a parent to a child with special needs was never part of my life plan. I had big dreams for my little girl, and although those dreams are different now, they are not less. It can be difficult to have a child with special needs. You are fighting day-in and day-out to cater to the needs of a child who is not mentally or physically well. And sometimes, when you are just trying to get a few normal things done, a trip to the bathroom makes you a target. You then have to be an advocate for your child when all you really wanted to do was just buy some groceries and get back home. Autism is an invisible disability. You cannot look at my child and immediately know she has special needs, which is sometimes a blessing and a curse. If my child was in a wheelchair or had the angelic face of a child with Down syndrome, strangers would immediately be clued into the fact that she requires special care and consideration. So instead of a quick trip to the store that afternoon, we ended up meeting another family on our team. When I say “team,” I mean someone who is fighting battles and advocating as hard as I am. A family striving to live life as well as possible when the deck is stacked against them. That’s our team. Though it’s a team I never sought to join, I have embraced it. I’ve met some of the most inspiring and inspirational people of my life. I have met people who humble me on a daily basis and people who are always willing to jump in and lend a hand or pick me up when I fall. It’s not where I thought I wanted to be, but it’s amazing to be part of this team. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. 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. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Stacey Rushing

The Change I Made That Helped My Daughter Love School Time

Today I woke up early, made myself a cup of coffee, and went outside to overlook my backyard that I had worked hard on a couple of years ago. It took me a few weeks of digging, planting, and laying landscape fabric to create the garden I had always wanted. As I sipped my coffee, I admired the way it had all come out so beautifully. Everything was starting to bud and bloom, and I could envision how lovely it would look in just a couple of weeks. My mind wanders back to winter, and how hard of a season it was for my child with autism and me. Winters are harsh in the Texas Panhandle and they were no less harsh inside our home. My only daughter suffers from autism, anxiety, SPD, and panic disorder. Last spring, she was enrolled in a PPCD program in our local school. We only attended for six months. Each day, I would take a screaming, flailing child to school. I tried to make our routine so perfect, even though each day when we got to school, she would start a tantrum. To say she hated it was putting it mildly. She would pee on herself and throw up when entering the school. She did not bond with one teacher or any of the special needs children in her class. She would leave me crying, and I would pick her up crying. It was exhausting, and after six months of this, we quit. I could not put her through this anymore, and I could not handle one more day of seeing my child miserable. So we took the winter off. I was a stay-at-home mom and I was keeping my already-behind child out of school. I got the disapproving glances from therapist, teachers and ARD specialists. I did not really care; I have never really cared what others thought about my decisions. I knew in my gut public school was not working. We kept up with therapies, but my child slowly stopped attending even those. She would throw tantrums every time we showed up at her center. So we took time off from that, too. We spent six months together, with me as her full-time caretaker and her taking a break from it all. During this time, I was exhausted. My house would be literally trashed by the end of the day and I would spend every evening cleaning, mopping and righting all the destruction of the day away. The days were spent playing, running errands and doing several messy projects at home. It was tiring, but my child was happy. I started to investigate private school. I found a school and toured it with my husband and my child. It was a small, private school for kids with autism, and it was attached to a thriving therapy center. My husband and I both liked the look of the school and the fact she could receive her therapy during the day while she was already attending school. She would be on an individualized learning plan and could progress as fast or as slow as she was able. My only hang-up about the school was the cost. Public school is free and the tuition of private school rivaled my high SUV payment. My husband was the only one working and as we sat to try and figure out the tuition, we could not come up with a solid way to make those payments work. We just did not have enough money. Eventually, I found a part-time position as a bookkeeper. I started my new job on the same day Gabby started her first day at the new school. Walking through the front door, the director of the school told me she would stay at Gabby’s side until she was ready to join the school full-time on her own. Knowing someone would be at my child’s side like a mother, to keep her safe and happy while she got comfortable, gave me instant peace. It only took two days for my child to feel at home at the new school. The second day, she was waiting by the door, ready to go to school. Dare I say, she was excited. My child who spent six months throwing up at public school was waiting by the door, excited to go to her new school. Three months later, my child is still waiting by the door. What I realized is that we needed that winter to figure out a new way forward. We needed time, time to take a break from the therapies and classes and to let her just be a kid. It gave me time to investigate other options for schooling and therapy. My child is now receiving individualized education in an environment catered to her, and for only her. She has blossomed into a child with friends who are just like her and she is having a wonderful time at school. Every day she comes home and she explains to me a new word she learned or a yoga pose she learned during her PE session. She is happy; finally, she is happy. It took all winter, but with time, we found a place for her. I am happier working a few hours out of the house and she is happier all around. So as I sit looking at my garden that was not much to look at this winter, I realize that sometimes we as people need to take some down time, just like the seasons do. I will never regret that harsh winter. It makes spring that much more beautiful. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook. And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Stacey Rushing

How I've Learned to Accept the Dark Days of Autism

I know from the moment she gets up today, it’s going to be a dark day. Even though we had a great day yesterday — we visited with friends and she slept beautifully — the angry grunting and growling has given me my cue. I take her to the bathroom in silence, taking off her nighttime diaper that we didn’t need a few short weeks ago, and put her in panties. That’s how it goes with autism — two steps forward, one step back. I bring her out to the living room, turning on her favorite cartoon on low. I crush her anti-anxiety medicine and autism medicine to a pulp and add it to a glass of warm milk. When I walk back in she grabs it greedily from my hand; no “thank you” today, even though her manners are usually flawless. I don’t push it, not today. I make it back to the kitchen, make coffee and start scrambling her eggs; I still hear the occasional grunt and growl. I ignore it; long ago I learned that days like this my voice or any extra noise only annoys her further. I bring her eggs in and set them on her table. I don’t even watch to see if she goes for them; I exit back to the kitchen, looking over my list of to-do things for the day. I scratch off almost everything, realizing we’re not leaving the house today and probably not even going outside because of the snow lightly floating down. I look over and realize with a sigh, despite her being aggravated today, I have to get some wash done. My laundry room is right next to the kitchen and my daughter hates the sound of the washer and dryer running. They’re top-of-the-line front loaders that I bought mostly for their quiet running cycles. I hear a clang and bang that I’m familiar with; my child has thrown her bowl of eggs. I walk in to see; she actually ate the eggs before flinging the bowl. I pick it up and send her to her room; time-out is the only punishment I doll out. I don’t even raise my voice. Instead I whisper and say “to your room for throwing the bowl. That’s not nice. You can come out when you have stopped crying and get control of yourself.” She is throwing a tantrum and extremely angry with me, but she moves her butt and slams her bedroom door for good measure. I make a second cup of coffee and sigh, as I take out my first load to fold out of the dryer. I think to myself about how restrained I am now and how calculating and strategic I’ve become at this strange game we play. Dark days are caused not only by autism, but sensory processing disorder (SPD) and anxiety and panic disorder. My child has this disastrous combination of a diagnosis. Today, I blame less on autism and more on SPD; it’s almost as if even the lights bother my girl today. The rumble of the furnace going on and off, the ringing of the telephone… every little thing can make today worse on her. She’s told me before that dark days feel like her ears are going to explode and everything she hears sounds like screeching tires in her ears and on top of all that, her stomach aches and she’s nauseous and her head pounds. That’s a beautiful thing about my child — she is verbal. She was silent to the age of 3, but these days she almost nonstop talks. She’s good at describing how she’s feeling when she’s not stuck on repeat and talking in circles. Today will go like many before us. I will stay silent most of the day. I will take great care to not make unnecessary noise or walk by her swiftly. I’ve learned passing her too fast can cause her to lash out at me; she says I whoosh by her and it scares her. I start putting away clothing in the drawers in nice neat stacks, and I smile. Today I will get a chance to sit down and read a book. Even though she’s angry, she doesn’t want to be alone. She enjoys the company. So I sit on the couch and pick up my kindle. I will get lost in a romantic comedy and sit on my side of the couch. She flops her body next to me and leans against me. I lightly wrap my arm around her and squeeze her shoulder whispering, “I love you, GG.” She doesn’t say anything back, but she’s not growling or grunting at me. I smile because I’ve played the game well today. My girl has had time to calm down, and the medicine has started to work. I look outside at the dark, cloudy sky and see the snow falling, and I smile. Years ago this day would have been a nightmare. I would be raising my voice trying to control her actions, and she would be raging right back at me. I would probably end up hurt and my house would be wrecked, throwing me into a deep depression. I think of how far we’ve come, how therapy and instruction from her occupational therapist has made today better. I learned what I can do and how to relax because I know the game plan. Today is a dark day — literally and figuratively. I know just as the ground outside needs moisture, my child can also benefit from a down day. I know tomorrow will bring the sun and melt away a bit of the snow that’s stuck to the frozen ground. Tomorrow my child’s nerves will thaw and grunts and grows will make way for smiles and giggles. Tomorrow I will get a thank you and she will speak to me excitedly. She will happily climb up on the counter to help me stir her eggs, she will sloppily poor half of my coffee into her glass and act like a big girl sipping it with me as we share breakfast and decide what to do and where we will go. I know what tomorrow will bring, so I can smile and accept today, not reading anymore into it than what it is. A down dark day, and I’m finally OK with it. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Stacey Rushing

Mother's Facebook Post From Day Her Daughter Was Diagnosed With Autism

Below is the letter I wrote two years ago on Facebook to announce our little girl was diagnosed with autism. Now, I often look back at this post (a blessing and a curse of being a writer). My first impression is that this women was fearless. She came home right after her daughter was diagnosed with a lifetime disability and made the news public to all 204 of her family and friends. She was unashamed, blatant, bold and, above all, honest. This was my post… Almost from the first week we brought Gabby home, I knew something was different with my baby. She would cry for two-four hours straight at night, almost every night. I would nurse, rock, walk and bounce her till she passed out. The doctors had no clue. We did all the tests they could think of, and she was labeled a difficult baby.By 2, she was hardly talking, but physically she was kicking all our butts. As she grew stronger, it was harder and harder to control her tantrums and fits. We gave up going out to eat, and soon we stayed close to home or parks unless we had two people.By 3, she was in speech and occupational therapy, and she showed little to no improvements. She grew taller and her weight soared to a whopping 40 pounds. We had more people than I can count tell me I needed to discipline my child or spank her, but I knew that just made the tantrums worse. We had to bear hug her and pat her back till she would calm down, and then it was like nothing happened. For the last two years I’ve been the lady in Wal-Mart holding down my girl while people walk by and see a 3-year-old having a tantrum.Last week after running a bunch of tests, Gabby was diagnosed with autism. We’re both relieved and devastated with the news. I know God has a plan for our life and Gabby’s as well. So for now we are going to be faithful and trust in him to lead us through the next chapter with our little girl. Prayers are welcome and appreciated. Then I remembered the feelings that went along with this post: I was scared. Probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. As I posted this message to my family and friends, I realize I did it because I was so afraid that if I didn’t say it out loud that day, I might never have the courage. I blurted it out for my family and friends to see because I thought if I didn’t share it, it would be taken as me being ashamed of her or trying to hide it. I came right out with it and took the “loud and proud” approach to sharing the news that my child was diagnosed with autism when in retrospect, I was devastated. So devastated that I spent the majority of the next two weeks heartbroken and crying. This was mostly because I didn’t understand what this meant for her and how we were going to manage. Not knowing if she would be OK was the most frightening part. Next, I spent a few days being pissed off and stressed and asking God, “Why us?” Finally, I crumbled for a few days and hid in the house. Then, I finally got up. Not because I wanted to get up, but because I had a husband leaving on a trip and a daughter to take care of. Just because I was grieving didn’t mean I didn’t have responsibilities. So I got back on the horse, you could say, and I got on with our life. I scoured libraries and the Internet trying to find out as much as I could about autism. I would take care of my child all day, and at night I would be obsessed with reading and researching everything I could find out about autism. I made appointments and kept up with her therapies, and life kept going. Looking back, if I could go back to the day of my daughter’s diagnosis, I would tell myself that it’s OK to grieve privately. It’s OK to not shout out the news that your dreams you had for your child’s life are changing. It’s OK to not have a plan. Your journey is going to be bumpy, and you’re going to run on broken roads at times, but in the end you still have the beautiful, enchanted daughter you started out with. You’re still going to have wonderful moments when she shocks you at her abilities and actions. Yeah, your dreams for her are going to be different, but they will not be less. Don’t worry so much. It’s all coming; just wait and see how wonderful it all will be. For all of January, The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? 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. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Stacey Rushing

When a Girl Asked Why My Daughter With Autism Is Weird

The other day we had a few girls from the neighborhood over. I was sitting, having a cup of coffee and talking to my best friend, who happens to be the mother of one of the girls. I heard another little girl ask my best friend’s child, “What is wrong with Gabby?” This is a moment that usually causes me to cringe because even though the girls are just playing in my living room with toys and watching a Disney movie on TV, this one’s already figured out that my daughter is different. Without any meltdowns or tantrums, this new child has caught on to my daughter’s disability. I hold my breath and wait to hear her response. My best friend’s daughter smiles and says, “Well Gabby has autism, and that’s what makes her special. She lives in a world that is different than ours…kind of like her brain does not work the same way.” The other little girl says, “Is that why she is weird?” My best friend’s daughter laughs and says, “She is not weird; she just likes to play ‘make believe’ a lot, and she really likes horses. You just have to play the things she wants to play, and if she gets rough you have to tell her mom. She doesn’t like scary movies, and she cries a lot some days, but her mom is the only mom in the neighborhood who will let everyone come inside, and she always serves snacks and drinks. Just give her some time and you will see the real her.” Their conversation only lasted a minute, but what I learned in that minute is other children can accept my child, but they will not be fooled. They know pretty soon after meeting Gabby that she’s unique. I’ve never been secretive about Gabby’s disabilities. I often speak about the challenges and triumphs of our little girl to others. My child stands out from the bunch; she probably always will, but listening to this little girl’s definition of autism and then having them play with Gabby lets me know she will continue to spread awareness. When she runs into another boy or girl in school, they will understand a little better what autism is. It’s not something to be scared of. “Autistic” does not mean they can’t be friends. It just mean an individual is unique but wants to play, just like every other child. A little patience and understanding is required. This little girl took the facts a friend shared with her and played for the rest of the afternoon with my little girl. She ended up having a great time playing horses. Not all days go like this; some days my child is upset with the other little girls, and we have to close our door and send everyone home. But today we made a new friend, and the girls got to play inside on a cold day. My child got to experience normal play with a group of girls, and that is always my goal. Despite Gabby being different, I’m firmly committed to her being part of our community. I drag her to Sunday school, even though she doesn’t make it in the class very long. Other children are exposed to her for a short while, and that’s important for her and them. One in 68 children are affected with autism today; my child may be the first autistic child these kindergarteners get to know, but she wont be the last. When dark clouds appear above my head and life gets me down, I force myself to push away the darkness and live in the light. I remember we need to go out — not for Gabby or me — but for all the other little children struggling with autism. I hear much too often moms of children with autism saying, “It’s not worth the hassle to take her to the fair.” I would agree with them on that statement; it would be easier to keep the doors closed and let Gabby play by herself. That’s where she’s most comfortable, and no outside influences will push her outside of her comfort zone. But if any child needs to be pushed, it’s an autistic child. I cannot keep her in a perfect bubble or world for long. As much as I would like to keep my child safe and have no one question or make fun of her, that’s not reality. So I push her to events in our community, church and school, not because my child enjoys those events so much, but because we’re going for the autistic children coming after us. Just like the parents before us who pushed their children into our communities, we must continue to do the same. We have to keep going, pushing and being seen. We have to keep having conversations with strangers and our children’s friends about autism. Putting my daughter out in the world, making her uncomfortable is the only way I can make social interaction easier for her and others around her. Practice makes perfect! So practice we shall.

Stacey Rushing

When My Daughter's Therapists Seemed Ready to Give Up

Well that just did it, I’m calling in the big guns. And when I say that, I mean the pediatric neurologist. My child has barely left the house in the last six weeks. She’s basically happy being a shut-in, although she’ll venture into the front yard and play with a few friends. Today she had such a massive break down at therapy. She really never made it back to even start therapy. After she started to get so upset, she threw up, and I realized this has been happening a lot. I asked our speech therapist, “When was the last time Gabby actually made it to the back and completed a full therapy session?” She looked at her records and came back and said, “Six weeks!” Then both her occupational therapist and speech therapist explained they’re at a loss on how to help Gabby. At this point she won’t attend therapy, let alone school. They explained that in all their years of being therapists, they’ve never seen a child so riddled with anxiety and fear. Believe it or not, this is not the first time we’ve discussed this. I’ve had several conversations like this before. They all believe Gabby is bright, but they cannot even fathom getting started teaching her anything because she’s so crippled with fear, anxiety and routine OCD. Most parents would be devastated by this news. Don’t get me wrong — there was a time when I would have been too. But I just looked these sweet ladies in the eyes and told them, “We will go get a medicine change. Usually when we’ve hit a wall with Gabby, she’s gained too much weight from the dosage of medication. We need a tweak, and we need to try a few things.” I grabbed both of their hands and said, “Don’t worry so much, we will work it out. It will probably get worse before it gets better, but we have time.” It’s weird having to be the cheerleader for your child and her therapists. Autism sucks, and it not only affects the ones inflicted with it but those trying to help them. I just wasn’t in the mood to fall into a black hole that day, and I wasn’t going to let two sweet ladies who are trying their best to fall into it either. Screw that. Every day doesn’t necessarily have to be a good day; you just have to find a small part that is good in it. I looked at my beautiful girl in the back seat, swinging her bare legs and humming to herself, drinking her water on the way home. I thought, so we might not be the healthiest mentally, but physically she is healthy, we have a nice home, my husband has a good job, good insurance, running cars, money in the bank and a good God that is present and faithful. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Stacey Rushing

Why My Daughter's New Bike Brought Me to Tears

As much as I love my daughter, I can’t afford to buy her some of the simplest pleasures that every child should enjoy — for instance a bike. When all the other little girls on our street were getting bikes with training wheels, my little girl was making do with an old-fashion pink scooter. You see, going to Wal-Mart and picking up an 80, 90 or even a hundred dollar bike would not work for my daughter. My little girl lives with autism — even if I purchased her a bike, her brain wouldn’t allow her to push the pedals. So at 4 years old, she was struggling to keep up with the giggling sweet girls on the block. Even as she pushed her scooter to the max, the other girls were faster with their peddles. As the year progressed, the training wheels came off one at a time. My child was left out, not able to keep up as the girls and boys rode to the end of the block and turned around. I watched my child make it half way down the block and push her scooter to the ground, throw a tantrum and cry because she wanted a bike too. And even though she’d tried repeatedly on her friend Riley’s Barbie bike, she couldn’t make her legs push the pedals. She was so frustrated, and these little missed opportunities were breaking both of our hearts. Then, an opportunity came out of nowhere — our new next-door neighbor was a physical therapist at a center that didn’t take our insurance. She watched as Gabby threw down her scooter and began a tantrum on her front lawn. She introduced herself to us in the midst of my child screaming, “It’s not fair… I want a bike of my own!” She gave me a small card and told us to come by tomorrow and get measured for a trike. She worked with an organization that gave away trikes to children with special needs. I’d heard of these types of trikes — they weren’t in our budget nor did insurance pay for them. They were out of our reach. I did call the next day, expecting my neighbor to have forgotten our conversation. She picked up the phone and told us to come on over and get measured. We went, and 30 minutes later my child was jumping up and down at the opportunity of a shiny new bike. Three months had passed when we finally got the phone call that she was receiving a trike. A local appliance company in our community had sponsored it. We showed up at the beautiful country club in our area for a lunch banquet where she would be awarded her trike and meet her sponsors. We barely made it to our table when our child started to melt down from the noise of the room and the amount of people staring at her. She had one of her biggest tantrums I’ve even witnessed in public. I scooped her up and told the presenter we were not going to be able to attend. I gave a rushed, “Thank you so much!” to our sponsors and carried my child back to the safety of our SUV. My husband came back out 30 minutes later and said the trike was loaded in his truck. We followed my husband home, and every time Gabby got a glimpse of her new trike she would say, “I did it, I got my new bike… I did it.” She was thrilled that she made it through the door and got her trike. I tried not to focus on the scene we’d made at the country club and all the people who had stared at us for the fact that we were not even able to sit at a table in a crowded room for just five minutes. The truth was, we did have a $2000 trike in my husband’s truck right in front of us, and we were taking it home. My girl was finally going to have a bike. An hour later, all the kids in the neighborhood were gathered in our driveway to watch as my husband tinkered with the new trike, adjusting it so Gabby could ride. This is the moment our world changed just a little bit. All the kids from the neighborhood and Gabby’s best friend, Riley, were playing in the driveway. They were going to leave and ride their bikes to the end of the street. This is usually where I’d watch Gabby look longingly as all the other girls ride away. Not today. My girl put on her helmet and told me to get her going. We rode with all the rest of the girls to the end of the block and turned around. Although we were not as fast as them, they kept paced with Gabby, and I got to watch her laugh and giggle with all the other girls. Thank God for oversized sunglasses because I had tears steadily flowing down my eyes as we walked. I know she will never be just like everybody else — her challenges will always make her a bit special. But just to be doing the same thing at the same moment as everyone else was perfect. For the first time in a long time I had tears of joy flowing down my eyes and not tears of sadness. I was just so happy; this trike was not only a wonderful gift, but it was a blessing for my girl. For all of December, The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to community@themighty.com .Hint! Some gifts don’t come in packages. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .