I have had this letter in my heart addressed to you for some time now. I'm ready to tell you how I really feel. Almost three years ago to the day, you hit this family like a runaway train veering off track.
We were simply trying to understand how to be parents when you showed up—trying to figure out how to balance life, money, work and a marriage. We were slowly getting the hang of what being a family was all about. And I finally felt like a mom, not just a babysitter to my own son.
Then you came knocking at our door, uninvited and totally sure of yourself, ripping my heart out of my chest.
You turned me in into the very thing I never thought I could be—bitter and jealous. I started to shut the world out, deleting people in my life who didn't understand. You forced me to sit in front of a computer and research what you're all about for hours upon hours late at night when I should have been sleeping.
I was going through the motions of life—trying to keep my head above water, trying to understand my new title of 'special needs parent.'
All the comparisons and milestones of what my son "should" be doing consumed me. I forced myself to nod at the comments that shot our way and bottle up the anger that grew in me. "He doesn't look autistic," "He'll catch up," "He's not even two—are you sure??" and the worst, "I'm sorry."
Oh, autism, how you confused me and whittled me down at first! But now you have turned my skin into a thick armor that will always protect my son and that nothing can penetrate. You have turned me into a person who now truly understands how the world works.
Because of you, I understand ignorance.
Because of you, I don't let people get into my head.
Because of you, I have been able to turn my anger into advocacy.
So what I'd really like to tell you is—thank you.
Because of you, I morphed into a fierce mama bear who isn't afraid to let the world know what you are all about. I am someone who is able to go into an evaluation conference ready for anything thrown my way. I never thought I could be so fierce, but you showed me what it means when people say that a parent would do anything for their child.
You flipped a switch in me, which helped pushed us to the resources my son needed.
Because of you, I translated the words he was unable to speak.
Because of you, I became his communication with the outside world.
Because of you, I was able to finally understand my son.
There were times when I thought I couldn't handle you.
There were (and still are) days when all of this is hard.
But, I wouldn't be the person I am today—filled with gratitude, hope, compassion and acceptance—without you.
I definitely wouldn't possess the patience I have today.
I wouldn't be able to juggle my life as well as (I think) I do.
I realize now you have been a secret gift that I never knew I needed in my life.
You have given me the ability to see the world in a different light, the ability to remove my rose-colored glasses and truly see how our society reacts to differences and disabilities.
It is tough at times, for sure, but you have opened my heart up completely, and you have made me a better person in the process.
You forced me to join a club that is full of the kindest, gentlest, most helpful and tenacious people I am honored to know—The Special Needs Parent Club.
You showed me that there are parents out there who would help a stranger in need and expect nothing in return—that they would go out of their way to connect and provide resources for us.
These people get me and understand what I go through daily. And some of them are people I will never meet face-to-face, but they are people who have impacted my life on a deep level.
I wouldn't have met them without you in my life.
My son is an amazing kid who doesn't care what others think. He doesn't (and probably won't ever) understand certain social norms, but his mind and memory are incredible—how he thinks and remembers is beyond me. He sees the world in a different light, straightforward for what it is, with no hidden agendas.
And you are the fabric of his being, an explanation of why he does what he does.
I hope he can bring your acceptance into this world. I know he has the power to, one person at a time.
Autism, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
A once frustrated mom who finally understands you