your words matter.

I don’t think there is a mom out there that hasn’t been kicked in the ass by motherhood a time or two.

Years ago, when Wilson was a nonverbal toddler and Charlie an infant, I attempted to take them both to Target.  This was pre-autism diagnosis, and I really struggled to understand and communicate with this boy of mine.

He started getting worked up as I loaded them into the double stroller.  As we passed through the automatic doors, he quickly escalated to intense screaming.  Everyone stared. I had no idea why he was so upset. His shrieks were so loud, he couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say (or see the bribes I was sending his way).  I turned around, wheeled them outside and bent down to try and reason with my frantic child at his level.

That is when his little ninja foot connected perfectly with my jaw. My toddler had just kicked me in the face.

I held back tears as I headed back to the car. Wilson still screaming, the baby was clueless, and we had no groceries to show for the courageous outing.

A man in the parking lot saw me and said, “You’re doing a great job. Being a mom is the hardest… I’ve got two little ones at home.”

I burst into tears.

What he said was nice, but do you know what I heard?

I heard that motherhood is hard, and it wasn’t just me doing it wrong. I heard that I am not weak, unqualified, or unfit for this mom-life thing, which is exactly the narrative I had been telling myself all too often.  This job is hard, and beautiful, and messy, and to acknowledge that is normal and to struggle is okay.

I felt seen at one of my weakest moments and encouraged by a stranger.

That man probably has no clue what he did for me that day. How he encouraged a struggling mom and that she still thinks about those words, years later.

Think about how easily you could do that for someone else… your words matter.

Just to be crystal clear, I know there is always a time and a place and commenting on a given situation doesn’t always feel right.  Just remember you are capable of being a bright spot in someone’s tough day.

Also, remember that your best is MORE than enough.

Raising a Child with Autism – You Are Not Alone

During the years surrounding Wilson’s autism diagnosis, I could barely say the word “autism” out loud.  

I thought I would just break down every single time and, frankly, I didn’t have time for that. To be clear, this had nothing to do with shame.  Not one day has gone by that I am not immensely proud of this boy.

That Dumbo went everywhere with him back then.

It was about fear, worry, the unknown, and all the other bumps along the road to acceptance. All a parent could ever want is for their child to be okay.  Autism has a way of tricking your brain into questioning if that will be the case.  There is so much to learn and understand before some of that uncontrollable worry begins to fade.

I threw myself into research. We got on waitlists. I began on the path to truly knowing this boy.

And I wrote. I got it all out. Everything that was too hard to talk about at the time.  Processing this kind of information is not easy, and it can be very lonely. This is a big reason why I am here, sharing our story. I never want other families to feel the same confusion and loneliness that we felt in the beginning of this journey.

It has meant so much to me to connect with other autism families, some who are going through the steps to a diagnosis or have a child that was recently diagnosed, and other parents of children of all different ages and abilities.

The main message I want to convey to all these parents is that there will be MANY times that you will feel alone in this, but you do not have to be.  I constantly must remind myself of this.

I cannot tell you how many situations there have been where my knee-jerk reaction was that no one knows how this feels.  The same battles, day in and day out, the medical incident reports, medical and educational decisions, the moment I saw AUTISM written on paper in an evaluation about my boy. 

I’ll tell you there is not one thing I could tell my fellow parents of children with autism about our life that would shock them. Seriously. The fears, the frustrations, the meltdowns, and all the “inappropriate” behaviors we’ve faced. They GET it.  They also get how big some of the simple, small victories truly are as well.    

Things can still be hard for me to process a lot of the time. Sometimes it seems easier to sit alone with the tough stuff. If you do this, please don’t stay there long. Let someone sit with you.

Find your own way to work through your thoughts and feelings. They are real and should not be ignored.

Talk to someone. You might find this safe person in a waiting room at therapy or the pediatricians office, on the playground, or online.  If all of this sounds impossible and overwhelming because you can’t even say “autism” out loud yet, that is okay too! It will get easier to talk about and then you will be ready to lean on others.

The best way for your friends and family to learn about autism and support you as a parent raising a child with autism is to tell them. Tell them about your child. Tell them about your struggles, your child’s struggles, strengths, passions, victories, and all the things.

They might not understand exactly how you feel, but they don’t have to. Sometimes talking through things just leaves you feeling better. I promise your people want to support you and celebrate with you and your child, you just have to let them.

I’m not saying you have to wave your autism awareness flag as loudly as I do. We all do this life differently. Find a place that makes you feel supported.

I am so much stronger than the day I walked out of that psychiatrist’s office with my son’s diagnosis in hand.  My whole family is. If you would have told me this back then, I may have not believed you.  

My boy is always growing and evolving and most days it feels like autism is always one step ahead of me.  It’s like trying to catch and examine the wind.  There is still so much unknown to wrestle with.

While I may never understand everything going on inside of this complicated boy, what I do know is that I will never stop trying, and it helps to know there are so many people here rooting for him.

Flashback to right around his diagnosis. This picture captures pretty well how it was going! Baby Charlie’s face gets me every time 🙂

will this ever get easier?

I have asked myself this question so many times in what felt like weak moments.

There are parts of this autism motherhood road I have accepted will not get any easier. There is no way to dull the pain you feel while watching your child battle big things, things no child should have to face. The anxiety, rigidity, and emotions they cannot make sense of or verbalize. Their frustration channeled into self-injurious behaviors. 

When your child hurts, you hurt. Try as I may, I cannot come up with the words to describe the feeling of seeing my son hurt himself out of frustration.  When there is nothing left for him to do except scream at the top of his little lungs, the words he needs consistently trapped deep inside of him. I picture our developed brains something like a smoothly running interstate, while my son’s is an entanglement of traffic jams, dead ends, and one-way streets.  A never-ending, exhausting road. 

Admitting the difficult, to yourself or others, is not weak. 

That is where you learn to grow, adapt, and summon up your strength and resilience.

Whatever your struggle is right now, keep at it. Lean on others, talk about it.

You will grow stronger. 

you are a good parent

“… You’re not in control of what life throws at you, you are in control of the fight.” – Rachel Hollis

Truth: It has been a little rough over here. And I know a lot of families are feeling it too. A little Monday motivation (ok and a lot of self-talk) coming at you…

You are a good parent.

Whether you choose to send your child to school, therapy, a neighborhood cohort, daycare or homeschool.

Or maybe that choice was made for you by state and county regulations.

There are no right or wrong answers right now. Only the path that’s best for your family.

You are enough.

Remember this as you head down this new, unknown road. As you prepare for the balancing act of your life and gear up to fight for continued support and services for your kids.

You are stronger than you know.

If you ever doubt this, look at your kids. Their strength, adaptability, and resilience and just how far they’ve come in their short time on this earth. Then get back in the ring.

We’ve got this.

“Mom, Why Does Wilson Have Autism?”

“Mom… why does Wilson have autism?”

“Because he was made that way. Just like you were made to be just the way you are.”

Oh, how I have dreaded this moment in the past. I have asked myself that very question a million times, only to come up with as many different answers. Like many things in our autism world, there is not one straight answer, leaving you with the same frustration and confusion you started with, and more questions.

What did I do wrong?

Did I take enough of those prenatal vitamins?

Maintain the right diet during pregnancy?

Was it his vaccination schedule?

What on earth is a refrigerator mother?

Or maybe this path was meant to be his long before he arrived here on this earth.

People will tell you that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know if autism was meant to be or not but the one thing I do know, is that these two were meant for one another.

She has messed with this regimented little boy in the best possible way since she arrived. And he has been fascinated since he laid eyes on her.

As they get older, their differences have become more apparent but so is how much they are learning from each other.

She is so proud of him for every new accomplishment, while also slowly registering that life really isn’t always fair.  She knows which buttons to push to set him off, but will also be the first one to rush to sing to him when he needs comfort.

“Give a squeeze,

Nice and slow,

Take a deep breath…

…And let it go.”

When the fog of frustration clears, I see beautiful “reasons” all around.  Wilson is a constant reminder to slow down and appreciate the simplest of things.  He could study leaves for hours and lays down to examine ants slowly making their way across the driveway.  He studies his reflection with such curiosity and wonderment, and he will study you the same if you let him in.

And is there a better sound than children laughing? Turns out, you do not need words for that.

I have stopped constantly wrestling with the paradox that is this world of autism, insisting it had to be one way or another. Difficult or easy, high or low, complicated or pure and simple. Perhaps it will be, and always has been, both.

Life can be everything. Together, these two are everything.

**Click on image below for a sweet video. That Dumbo was Wilson’s favorite thing in life for his first four years. He brought it everywhere. He loved to rub it’s nose on his forehead when he was tired or needed calming.  He shared that feeling with his new sister and it was such a tender moment.

For Families With Children Who Are Newly Diagnosed With Autism

I am so grateful to have connected with so many new families who have children with autism or are going through the process of obtaining an autism diagnosis for their child.

In 2018, I was asked to share my advice for families of children newly diagnosed with autism as part of a video series for Finding Cooper’s Voice.  I wanted to share this video here in hopes it may help some of you on your journey.

It is a new road, but parents, hang in there! You are about to find strength you never knew you had and become the most fierce, amazing advocates for your child!

YouTube link to the video below.

Our Children Are Not Less Than

When it comes to disgusting comments and disgraceful humans, I try to avoid sharing the things that give them air, life, and room to breathe. The notoriety. The truly hurtful stories and events, I want to hide those from my fellow parents of children with disabilities because we do not need that in our life.

Sometimes though, I just cannot.  

Across the country there has been so much chatter about the re-opening of schools. As parents, we are all anxious, stressed, and concerned for our children.  This is no reason to start tearing one another down. To devalue any child or their education to make room for others. 

Now this, a MOTHER truly devaluing other children’s lives. Upset that the children in special education classes in her district are returning for five days a week vs. her child only returning for two days a week, she posts this on social media: “The kids that are going further in life aren’t the special ed kids sorry to say but it’s the truth. Also when I say special I mean head banging, screaming, throwing fits special! My child is going a lot further in life than those children and should be the one going five days a week not two. If you don’t like that truth I don’t know what to tell you!”

In another district, a KINDERGARTEN TEACHER posted on Facebook: “I’m so tired of hearing about special needs kids.  They’ll be fine. They were (SLUR) before COVID and they’ll still be (SLUR) after.” The rant and slurs continued. He, deservedly so, is facing dismissal. 

I am broken-hearted that there are these kinds of disgraceful humans out there. It is truly absurd. Raising and educating children at that.

Another mom of a child with autism suggested that these people could benefit from spending a day with our children, that maybe that experience would show them how and why this world is more beautiful with children like ours in it.

I say they don’t deserve to. I also know they couldn’t do it.

They couldn’t manage the screaming, the medications, the atypical communication, the anxiety, self- injury, and elopement.

No, they couldn’t do that. 

And certainly, they would miss all the wonder of seeing this world differently.  The pure and simple happiness found by dancing with your shadow or chasing butterflies.

They would not notice the grit, determination, and resilience a boy like mine brings to the table every single day to work through communication differences, sensory processing difficulties, and self-regulation obstacles.

Would they join him as he cautiously studies, touches, smells, and examines the world around him? Could they share in this six-year-old’s love of pirates, eggs, paper, and The Beatles?

Do you think they would get to feel that happiness found by joining his world just for a few rare moments? Like when he is busy scripting and reciting and realizes you have learned the script, too?  The way he looks at you, as if saying, “Welcome, it’s so fun here!”

No, I don’t think these people can hear the unsaid like that.

Something also tells me they cannot give more when there is nothing left. Conjure up patience when it has been depleted. No, that is something they would learn from a child like mine.

Oh, the places he will go. I am sorry they are missing that.

Change the World

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When autism entered my life, I knew nothing about it. Books and the internet provided some information but at times they were also terrifying rabbit-holes to nowhere. No one was talking about autism. Because of this, I think the road to acceptance for many parents with special kids is very lonely and isolating.

It did not take long to realize that there was very little I could control about my son’s autism. We worked hard at various therapies all day long for very slow progress. We still do, and it is worth it.

We built a team of therapists, doctors, and interventionists to help him learn, keep him safe and help us learn to communicate with him.

The more I came to terms the impossibility of completely changing my son’s autism, I decided we were going to change the world instead.

I want the world to be easier for him to navigate through. I want awareness, kindness, acceptance and inclusion to surround him wherever he goes.

I want people to know my boy, to understand him. I know this is not going to be easy. We work every day to do that ourselves.

I want people to know that his favorite color is red. He has never told me this, I just know.

I want children to understand that he wants to play with them, even though it does not always look that way. They need to know that most of the time his words are trapped somewhere deep inside of him. That he is not intentionally ignoring them and that his hearing is perfectly fine. He just does not always understand their words, but maybe they could show him instead.

You see, too many words get all mixed up in his head. But if you take his hand or tap his shoulder and show him the way, he just may follow.

Little friends need to know that he might not share the toys that are precious to him on a particular day because the way he has them lined up and organized is what he depends on to make him feel calm and like all is right in the world.

I want the shock and awe stares during the public meltdowns to disappear. Our meltdowns are not the typical toddler I-want-a-candy-bar kind. They are communication breakdown, sensory overload, all- systems-firing and frightening. I want a stranger to tell me I am doing a good job or acknowledge that being a mom is hard, instead of a judgmental glance when I struggle to pick my child up off the parking lot pavement.

This is where we begin to change the world, by sharing one boy’s journey with autism. Let him be your reminder that things are not always as they seem and to always lead with kindness and patience.

We are so thankful that you are here with us!

family

On World Autism Awareness Day our incredible friends and family came together (while apart) to support our boy by showing us their BLUE for Light It Up Blue, a worldwide autism awareness event.  This video will make us smile forever. So thankful for all of the amazing people on this journey with us!

Click on image below to view the video!

Autism on Paper

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Seeing it on paper has been one of the more difficult parts of this autism journey.

The first developmental pediatrician we took our son to gave us an “Active Problem List” that was a mile long:

Global Developmental Delay

Mixed Expressive/Receptive Language Disorder

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Impaired Social Interaction

Hyperactive Behavior

Anxiety

Toilet Training Resistance

Sensory Processing Difficulty

He was three years old. I didn’t know where to start but I knew we could work on all of it.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The first time I saw his autism diagnosis on a piece of paper, I sobbed uncontrollably while sitting at a conference table, mostly full of strangers.  You hear about mother’s intuition and “gut feelings” and people will ask you if you saw this coming.  None of that made a difference.

That experience is something I have struggled to put into words for years. Fear, sadness, grief… these don’t even come close to encompassing it. Truthfully, I don’t even want to put it into words.

This was only the beginning. Over the years, evaluators, doctors, therapists, while all well-intentioned, are constantly rating, judging, and assessing my child.  Some things feel wrong, “they don’t know him” we think to ourselves. Some sting, they cut my breath short or keep me up at night. The end-product never feeling like a summation of my boy.

On a few occasions now, I have had to fill out a 30+ page questionnaire covering everything from “Can he use a spoon without spilling?” to “Does he want to kill himself?”

These words get tucked away in file cabinets everywhere: school, the county, therapy, a few pediatrician’s offices. But the weight of them never leaves us.

Anxiety

Self-injurious Behaviors

Aggression

We continue to carry them.

How do you ever get used to these words?  For their sting to become dull?

Medical Incident Reports

Property destruction

Elopement

For special needs parents, the line between acceptance and determination is a blurry one.  We maintain an ironclad grip on these heavy words, these “problem lists”, until we decide in which category they are going to land.

Over time, we loosen our grip and let some words go.

Public school

Organized sports

Music lessons

Sometimes, when we let go, we make room for something better to come along.  Adaptive sports, music therapy, and amazing interventionists who help your child practice sitting in a restaurant and safety in the community.

The heaviest ones, we continue to carry those. We make it our mission to send those words into the fire one day, for them to cease to exist in our children’s lives.

Anxiety

Self-injurious Behaviors

Aggression

We, along with our children, will continue to carry the weight.

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Conversations with a 4-year-old about her Brother’s Autism

advocate sis

A few months ago my 4-year-old daughter, Charlie, yelled from across the room, “Mommy, look!”

Her older brother, who doesn’t tend to pay her much attention, was hugging her.

She said, “Does this mean he loves me now?”

My heart broke.

Confession: I am a bit of a hypocrite. I advocate for autism awareness and everyone talking to their children about autism and I really hadn’t done it myself with my neurotypical child. We talk about differences and kindness and why everyone we meet is special, but we hadn’t had the “your brother has autism” conversation yet.

Part of me didn’t want to point out his differences to her. She had known and loved him just as he is for her whole life. Heck, she’s been advocating for him since she learned how to speak. I often overhear her saying things like “that hurts his ears” or “he can’t do that” to caregivers and friends.

At the Christmas tree farm this past winter, she overheard me telling my husband about the onlookers when I struggled to calm her big brother during a meltdown. Over the years, my patience has grown in these public meltdown situations, but those burning stares, that part hasn’t gotten any easier.

“I don’t like people looking at he,” she said. Her love for him is so immense. She’s always looked up to him, and somewhere along the line she started looking out for him.

hugs

This was probably around the time I felt like I was raising twins. I remember jokingly saying that several times, usually to address the elephant in the room that was our son’s developmental delays.

Two kids in diapers followed by two little potty-trainers. Both with similar interests and level of attention needed. We were in uncharted territory for years. Including when she slowly surpassed him in some areas. Nothing can prepare you for that.

The twin thing wasn’t funny anymore.

She watched me try to explain something to her brother one day and interrupted with “He no understand you because he’s Wilson.”

Comments like that chipped away at my heart. I knew I had some explaining to do. But I also wanted her to always look at him with that same unconditional adoration she always has. I struggled with telling her something that I knew would be very hard for her to understand versus her just knowing him with her heart like she always had.

So, I waited. I waited for what to say and when and why.

She comes along to drop him off at his special school every day, and sees all his peers, all with autism like her brother. Some look and behave similarly to her brother and some are very different or much older. She sees flapping and hopping and hears humming, moaning, and loud shrieks of joy or stress.

Leaving the school one day, she had a question about one of his older schoolmates she saw screaming that morning.

I told her about how special her brother’s school was, and that all the students there have something called autism. That sometimes her brother screams too because he can’t remember what words to say instead. “They have very special teachers there to help him learn and stay calm,” I explained.

We talked about her book, When Charley Met Emma, about a girl whose body looks different than hers, and she uses a wheelchair. I told her that although you can’t really see how Wilson is different, he is different in his mind and the way he thinks, learns, listens and says things. How he and all his friends do special things to keep their bodies calm, like humming, jumping or self-talking.

“Why does he have optimum? He has it because he not talk?” she asked.

“He has it because everyone is so different, and that is a great thing!” I said. “Just like how you get to wear your pretty glasses, lucky girl.”

She thought for a few moments. “I scream and cry too because I have a hard time, am I going to have optimum?”

“We all do sometimes, sweet girl. We are all so much the same, and our differences make us so special. Do you have any more questions about Wilson’s autism?”

“No, I just don’t want to get optimum.”

“You won’t, sweet girl.”

advocate sis.2