As many of you already know, April is Autism Awareness month. And if you’ve read my column or know me personally then you know that my son is autistic. According to the Center for Disease Control autism is defined as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. For many it can be a scary diagnosis with no clear path ahead but for us it has become normal everyday life.
My son was 2-years-old when we started pursuing medical help. I had noticed he was delayed in many milestones and he started to line things up all over the house. Toys, books, shoes, anything he could find were lined up on the floor. I started to get more concerned when he wasn’t making any progress with talking and was becoming very angry because he wasn’t able to communicate with us. So naturally I turned to the internet first because who really calls their doctor before checking WebMD? I took random tests and questionnaires, and everything kept coming back as possible autism. So I ran with it.
I started calling doctors and speech therapists, and we slowly started the process of a diagnosis. Once we got our official diagnosis, I will admit I was a little intimidated at first. I honestly had no idea what we were up against. What would our world look like now? How would we manage having a child who has special needs? Would Nathan ever be able to talk or live a somewhat normal, independent life? The questions were endless. So, with all of my unanswered questions I once again turned to the internet and joined every autism group I could find. It was a bit overwhelming.
What I noticed when I joined these groups was a community was already established that I was trying to fit in with but I didn’t quite fit the mold. But let’s be honest, Steph Hightree doesn’t really fit the mold in most places. I mean, I was a special needs parent now with a child who has autism, but I couldn’t relate to any of the other parents in the group. I’m not saying all groups are like this, but the ones I joined were filled with fear and anxiety of the unknown. Obviously, I felt that too, just not as much as everyone else. I was ready to conquer some obstacles and I felt like the other parents were just dwelling on the diagnosis.
I left the groups that I had joined and started my own group. But of course, living in a small town, the group didn’t really take off, so I ended it and just came to the conclusion that I was going to do this with my friends and family behind me. I was going to help Nathan take on the world one day at a time. He is now 10-years-old so we have been living the autism family life for eight years and I’m not saying I’m an expert, because who really is? But I do have some experience with navigating autism. But here’s the problem, autism is such a tricky disorder that no two children are alike. They all experience autism differently, which means it’s very hard to figure out.
I like that April helps shine a light on autism by celebrating Autism Awareness Month but what I really wish they would celebrate is Autism Acceptance Month. With one in 54 people being autistic we really need to change our focus to acceptance versus awareness. Everyone should be aware by now. Autism is here and it’s not going away. But the acceptance part is when things start to change. Acceptance starts with you. When you accept the fact that life is different now and that your child will be living a life that you may not have been prepared for, your life will become easier. Things will start to fall into place, you will learn routines and work through quirks. I don’t want you to think this will all be easy breezy though, it takes time. But once you take a moment to process everything, it will get better.
For me autism is very confusing, challenging, annoying and refreshing all at the same time. It’s confusing, challenging, and annoying because you never know how your child is going to react in situations, things change on a daily basis. One day they could like something, the next they hate it. But it was also refreshing because it gave me answers to the concerns I had early on. It has changed our lives but it has also made Nathan the person that he is today.
Our life is still filled with questions and unknowns but we are processing and working through things every day. If you take things one day at a time it is less overwhelming than always looking at the big picture. If you have suspicions that your child may be on the spectrum, I encourage you to reach out to your doctor. Or reach out to me and I will help you navigate what is next. Like I said, I’m no expert, but I’m here to help.
It’s time we break the stigma of what people think autism is and start accepting that it’s not the end of the world. Our children and family members can live fulfilling lives as long as we accept what we have been given and work to empower them. Autism Acceptance Month is a learning tool. Use it, share it, and know that everything will be OK.
Steph Hightree is a hot mess mom who is fueled by stress and too much caffeine. She is a Three Rivers native who talks about the good, the bad, and well, everything else about parenthood.
Any views or opinions expressed in “#MomLife” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.