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The joys and challenges of parenting an autistic child

Even though this journey has many unexpected twists and turns, there is such beauty in my son and our relationship.

The joys and challenges of parenting an autistic child

The Autism roller coaster is a ride you don't have the luxury to depart from. Once you have your ticket and board, you are on it for life. No returns, no exchanging your ticket.


I boarded the Autism roller coaster without realizing it.

In 2013 I took my son to his pediatrician for his 2-year check-up. She asked basic questions and I could tell she wasn't happy with the answers I was giving her: no he doesn't stack blocks, no he doesn't turn his head towards my voice, no he isn't saying any words.

While I was upset at her for making me feel like my son was broken, she was the only person who noticed that something was not right.

So off we went to get a hearing test done. When that was normal, we started Speech Therapy. A little while after that Occupational Therapy started, and not too long after that was the referral.

Once we were referred and on the waiting list, I realized that we were on a different ride than I wanted to be on. I wanted a smooth fun ride full of laughs and smiles. This roller coaster started out with sharp turns and uncertain paths. And in that moment, I would have given anything to get off. But I couldn’t. Instead, I needed to learn how to be the best advocate possible for my son.

Then in 2014, we were ascending slower to the top of the roller coaster. We were at the specialist. My son was being assessed by multiple professionals, and finally they came into the room and said the words that rocked me to my core, "Jaxon has Autism."

When hearing those words, no matter how prepared you are, you feel like you just hit the top of the roller coaster and you are plummeting down. I was scared, nervous, and uncertain of how this ride would end.

Throughout this roller coaster ride, despite the sharp turns and giant loops—it has also been filled with giggles, tickles, smiles and love. So, so much love.

But once we hit the bottom after finding out Jaxon’s diagnosis, we started to move along the twists and turns of the school system. My son loves school so it was pretty smooth for a while. But as other Autism parents know, there are smooth parts which are fun and fill you with hope, and then there are the regressions. The gut-wrenching regressions where you don't know what you're going to do.

With the smiles and giggles and laughter, also came the regressions and questions and the feelings of desperation.

Like the regression my son had when he lost all of his words. I thought, How could this happen? ‘We've worked so hard and now it's gone? I was feeling nervous and uncertain. And then, before I knew it, we were at the top of the roller coaster again when my son gained his words back and then some.

Or the regression my son had when he became very aggressive seemingly out of nowhere. Aggressive towards me, his grandma and his classmates. He had become a child who would hit me and knock the breath out of me. He became the child who hit me in front of our family and I saw the shock on their faces before I left the room to cry. I was mortified. I became the mom who flinched when my child would run up to me. I was so tense that my body was sore constantly.

You battle being stuck upside down for months until finally, the roller coaster flips you back again—right side up. The aggression disappeared, his vocabulary increased to where he could verbalize himself more. We were able to communicate better.

But I have found that when we’re riding the fun part of the roller coaster again, I’m watching and waiting. Waiting for the next flip or sharp turn. You wait for the next time you are stuck upside down and you prepare yourself. You build up your toolbox and get ready to help your baby when he needs it.

Even though this roller coaster can be wild and there are many unexpected twists and turns, there is such beauty in my son and our relationship. After every setback and every meltdown, the milestones are that much sweeter.

Everything we work on together feels like we are rising up into greatness and we can conquer anything that comes our way. I know that all of his teachers and specialists have our back and it's nice to know that there is a village around us cheering us on.

The Autism roller coaster is not a ride that anybody chooses to ride, but it is the one we are on. So while we’re at the top, I will enjoy the view. And while we are fighting our way through the bottom, I will use my strength and push through—because I am riding this ride with my heart: my son.

After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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