autism,  motherhood

Why I’m thankful for autism

As we head into the American Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been thinking about all of the things in my life I’ve been grateful for. And I’ll be honest. Autism doesn’t rank on the top of my list. But I made myself sit down and really think about the things that autism has made me grateful for, and there really are so many things that I appreciate about it. So here are 10 thing’s I’ve come up with–and accompanying pictures.

Like the time I ordered special salad tongs off of Amazon to practice “clamping” J’s mouth open a month before he had to go to the dentist and have his mouth clamped open. Or the time we practiced every night with a mechanical pencil pushed against his arm to practice our breathing techniques for when he really did have to get his shots.
  1. It always has me thinking outside of the box. When J was born, I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom until my kids went to school because I wanted to have that bond with my kids before the world got their chance at them. But I’ll be honest. Being a stay-at-home mom terrified me. I babysat A LOT as a teenager and through my babysitting experiences, I learned that I really didn’t love babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. I always did initially, but as the hours of a babysitting job stretched on, I felt like I was going a little crazy with the repetitive games toddlers and preschoolers wanted to play. I remember checking my watch multiple times an hour to see how close it was until the parents came home. I needed more interaction. I needed mental stimulation. I became bored out of my mind after just 2 or 3 hours. And I knew this at 13 year old and by the time I was 17 things didn’t change. People told me my feelings would change when I had my own kids, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t for me. J came along and I didn’t have to worry about it. His autism manifested itself when he was just 18 months old, and 18 months into being a mom I suddenly had to become a out-of-the-box, problem solving MACHINE. And although my heart was breaking in a thousand ways about having a “different” child, my mind thrived (and still does) in finding ways to help J learn and interact with the world around him.

    Just a teeny tiny representation of all the books, programs, and workshops I’ve attended to help me understand autism, speech development, sensory integration, and learning disabilities I’ve devoured over the years.
  2. I’ve learned so much about the human mind and body. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m an expert on the human mind and body, but I’ve learned more about human physical development and mental health and development than I ever thought I would. I became proficient in the toddler and preschooler developmental milestones. I knew exactly when a child was supposed to be able to at what month of their life (brush their teeth, hop on one foot, unfasten a button, construct a two-word sentence, construct a three-word sentence, etc). I’ve learned more than I ever new before about mental health and anxiety (which was pretty much nothing because society NEVER talks about it). In fact, learning about mental health has been essential for me in being aware of the mental health of others (including myself).
  3. The village. Having a child with autism requires you to rely on the help and friendship of so many people and have relationships with people in ways most people don’t get to have. I have an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude with every interaction I have with people in our village. I’ve met so many incredibly kind, compassionate, smart, and talented people in our autism journey and I’ve become a better person with my interactions with them. Thank you thank you to the teachers, parents, and peers who support us.
  4. Having a child with autism forces me to take time for myself. Because of my awareness of taking care of mental health, I’ve learned that my mental health is just as important. I also think having a child with autism makes you fight for your sanity a little more. I’m so grateful for a husband who supports me when I need to take a vacation (even if that means everyone else behind) or supporting me in going back to school to get my Master’s degree.
  5. The special family bond. Because J has autism, our family has a very different dynamic than most families. It can be more stressful because of anxiety and meltdowns. It can be frustrating and disappointing because you have to drop all your plans or hopes for something to take care of or appease someone who can’t handle the disappointment of not having things go the way they want to. Steve, W, and I have all felt that stress, frustration, and disappointment. But we’ve also got to share a bond–that band of brothers bond–that most families don’t get to share. We get each other when nobody else does. We do almost everything together (mostly out of necessity) but that’s brought us a lot of great memories and experiences. We appreciate our personal struggles–and talk about our struggles all the time because we need each other.
  6. I get to see the world from a different perspective. Having a kid like J has really helped me see the world in ways I’d never considered before. Who knew that we don’t all see colour in the same way, or taste foods in the same way? Who knew that people could use and interpret the same language in different ways? Autism helps me appreciate and learn more about the world than just the limited perspective I’m experiencing it in.

    The one and only Temple Grandin.
  7. I realize none of us sees the world in the same way and that helps me understand the non-autism world better. Having a child with special needs has made my heart open so much more than just toward the autism community. I’ll be straight up. I grew up in a very privileged, white-middle class world. I had every educational opportunity I wanted. I benefit from being an abled, educated person. Having a child born with special needs put J at a disadvantage at succeeding in the world right at the get-go and makes me understand that there are so many of us on the planet who don’t have that wonderful, privileged, life that I did nothing to deserve but totally benefited from. Having a child with special needs makes me call my government representatives, makes me want to rally with and stand beside everyone else who doesn’t enjoy the same privileges I do, just because they were born in a different country, have different coloured skin, or “othered” in any other way. We don’t get to choose the circumstances we’re born into or the structure of the society (who is more valuable and who is not) that we’re born into. We need to stand up and look out for each other.

    Physically strong too! Because of J I think I’m probably in the best physical health I’ve been in my life.
  8. Helps me realize that I’m stronger than I think I am. Every time I feel like I just can’t do it anymore–that I just can’t handle one rude comment, one meltdown, one fight for an accommodation, one petition for equality, I find that I can. Autism has made my personal endurance level stronger than I thought I was capable of. That protective mama bear drive can get you where you need to go when you think you’ve got nothing left.

    One of the early villages!
  9. Helps me realize that I’m not as strong as I think I am. And just when I do think I’m strong enough, I realize that I have my limits too, and that it’s TOTALLY okay to ask for help. I can’t be everything all the time–mom, personal tutor, speech therapist, occupational therapist, life coach, psychologist and everything else I need to be. I realize that I can’t be “on” all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with having limits too.
  10. I get to raise an incredible kid. As lonely and as frustrating as it is, at times, raising an autistic kid, I do really feel pretty lucky that I get to raise J. J is an incredibly smart, social, funny, talented kid (although it’s not always manifest in the “traditional” ways our society deems worthy of). I’m constantly amazed by his strength and determination to figure out how to grow and learn how to interact in a world that doesn’t always understand and appreciate him. And it’s really inspiring.
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2 Comments

  • Carol Forster

    With your background and all that you’ve researched, with your never-ending endeavors to try new things, and with your determination and ability to teach others and guide them to alternative ways… YOU are our Temple Grandin. Thank you!

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