For parents and caregivers who read this title, I’m sure you are saying, “ What??!!! How can you possibly be thankful for Autism??!!!” When you are in the trenches of a difficult Autism-related situation, being thankful is the last thing on your mind. When going through my first son’s diagnosis, my head was full of the many commitments that were about to take over my life: Doctor’s Appointments, Home Evaluations, School Assessments, Regional Center Appointments, and the mountains of applications, medical records, and forms to complete. And these are only the extra activities outside of experiencing my child’s difficulties navigating the world around him. I could go on about the hard stuff, the hurt, the pain, etc. In fact, I began working with children with autism in 1984, even before I had children of my own. I stopped after several years because of burn out. Now, with my two son’s diagnoses, I’m back in the land of Autism! So what about this am I thankful for?
First and foremost, I am thankful for my babies and all of their beautiful imperfections. They are priceless and precious beings. Sure, everyone must feel that about their children. I also have two older children who do not have autism and the sentiments are the same. However, Autism has opened a different door, both in my mind and in my heart. It has taught me the practice of acceptance. When I see families struggling in the store with their child who is stretched out on the floor screaming, I easily have compassion, because I have been there. I understand. And when I overhear someone in the line make a judgmental comment, I can kindly say, “The parents are doing the best they can. Their child is having a difficult time. Judging them is only making it harder for that family.” Autism has also pushed the boundaries of my flexibility and willingness to compromise. When my child is insistent on doing things differently than I would like or expect, I have to examine whether my way is the only way. For example, one Halloween, I wanted my son to wear a costume, but he did not want to. I got him to choose one, but he kept taking it off. I had to really think about what was really important. It was for him to have fun. This was not and should not have been about me and my expectations. I asked if he wanted to go Trick or Treating. He said, “Yes!” I asked if he wanted to wear a costume. He said, “No!” So, we went with what he was wearing: swim trunks, a T-shirt, and flip flops. To make myself feel better, I said, “Ok. You’re a surfer.” He said, “Sure.” But I knew he could care less. I had to let go of what I thought was important and truly look at what made him happy. On a much larger level, Autism has shaped my heart to embrace all of my child’s differences and to celebrate what makes him unique. He’s funny, creative, loves being an uncle, and is intensely curious about all things technological. I marvel at his genius while creating and executing self-taught coding on the computer. When I truly think about it, I am thankful for who he is, uniqueness and all. I am thankful for the journey with Autism. It is teaching me so much about the world and about myself.
What are you learning about yourself as a result of having a child on the Spectrum? What joys have you uncovered by simply letting go and recognizing your child’s gifts, whatever they may be? How has your perspective shifted to embrace differences about yourself and others? Truly think about the positive things that have happened to you because of your child’s Autism. When you look through the lens of thankfulness and gratitude, you’d be surprised by what you find.