I wish I could tell you that this Mom in the picture was wise and ready for whatever came her way. But, she was young and naive and just getting her feet under her after the birth of her first child. Things weren’t going as they were supposed to and behind the smile, she was struggling like never before. Struggling to understand what she was doing wrong and why her baby wasn’t sleeping, eating and was doing so many repetitive things. She had read all the books and taken the parenting classes, but none of it had prepared her. No one told her that she may have a child with special needs and what that life would look like. Not one person mentioned that possibility, the one that became her reality.
She was devastated when she realized that her child was autistic. Devastated because she didn’t even know what that meant for her child-and that was the scariest thing that her child’s life now had a label, that she didn’t understand.
She didn’t know that she would cry in her car after someone mocked her child in the grocery store because he flapped his arms.
She didn’t know that other moms would stare at her at the park and give her looks of pity as her child lay by the swings crying from sensory overload.
She didn’t know about the trips to the ER for climbing and running injuries, and all the therapies.
She didn’t know what it was like to be excluded, but she learned that lesson the hard way.
She didn’t know that she would be so isolated that she would crave a smile from a stranger or a pleasant exchange with the gas station attendant.
She didn’t know that she would watch people come and go, some running as fast as they could to get away from her and her child.
She didn’t know that people would make assumptions and judge her because her child was different. That their lack of understanding would cause them to blame her.
She didn’t know that people feared different instead of embracing it.
She didn’t know that different was often received with the most unkind and cruel remarks.
She didn’t know real exhaustion.
She didn’t know what it was like to fight for every single thing like proper care, safety, education, health care and accessibility.
But she also didn’t know that….
You can find the joy in every day.
How one smile or squeal of delight from your child can make your day.
How someone’s heart and soul can smile from a new pair of buzz lightyear shoes or a song about toilet paper.
That there are many different ways to communicate and that love needs no words.
That watching your child hold a cheesie, or climb a set of stairs could be a bigger accomplishment for you than being handed that university degree.
That it is okay for someone to not be a good fit for your child and to outgrow people and watch them leave.
That the right people will find you and stick around.
That boundaries and doing what’s best for your family would become your peace and priority.
That strangers can love you and your child like family.
That simplicity is good for your soul. You will never feel more alive than you do walking on a beach, laughing until you cry or feeling the wind on your face.
That your heart can break and you can also feel immense joy all in the same hour.
There are many different ways to reach a goal or acquire a skill.
That a life lived differently, is not a life less loved.
That a diagnosis is a road map but not a final destination.
After the diagnosis, there will be some really ugly days, some heart breaking days and some of the absolute best days of your life. Days when your heart is bursting with so much love and pride.
You will realize that your child is the amazing person that they were meant to be and they will teach you so much about unconditional love and personal growth that you won’t be able to express it with words.
And through it all your child will constantly remind you that anything is possible, the sun always shines again, and some of the best days of your life haven’t even happened yet.
Six years later, as this mother looks back on this picture she knows that most importantly, despite it all, she has found joy in her journey.