Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I Talk About Her Diagnosis

Autism Awareness Month is less than a month away and talks of Autism will be filling the air. My social news feed is already blowing up with reminders to either start a walk, raise money, and light it up blue, all in the name of Autism Awareness.

Granted, it's imperative to talk about Autism and do these things throughout the month of April, but what about now or after the blue lights fade? You see, I am one of those parents who constantly talks about her daughter's autism diagnosis to anyone willing to listen. I do this on a daily. Why? Why in the world would I share something so personal with strangers who could potentially use my words against me? 

Well I'll tell you why, but first, get it. I understand why some families are very selective as to who they share their child's diagnosis with mainly due to preconceived labels and judgements and what a shame this is to feel such a way.

For instance, if someone wants to keep my daughter or family in a label bubble or decides to not associate themselves with us after learning Autumn is autistic, guess what, that's their problem, that's on them. Also, what kind of friend would that be? Honestly, would anyone want to be friends with people who are afraid of autism or anything else that may not fit into that perfect box image? I didn't think so. Plus, I truly don't care what people think of me and my family. If they want to judge us or not associate with us because we're a special needs family, oh well. Their loss. Our gain. 

In addition, how are we supposed to support a world full of inclusion, awareness, and acceptance if we don't talk about the diagnosis? If we are so afraid to let that cat out of the bag that it holds not just our families back at being able to try new things, but it hurts the child and/or individual we are advocating for? 

We as parents and caregivers are responsible for creating a world where our children should have every opportunity to excel despite autism or any other disability. By talking about the diagnosis and then educating others about autism (or any disability for that matter), we encourage more sensitivity and understanding. We break down barriers and remove stigmas one step at a time. We open the eyes and minds of others who may now go throughout their days being less judgmental towards that parent with the screaming child in the store or down the street. We open the pathways for love and acceptance as well as kindness by sharing our journeys. 

This is how we change the world. It's a 365 day a year ideal, not just only promoting this belief throughout one month. 

Lastly, I talk about my daughter's diagnosis because I'm proud of her and all that she is. Autism is a huge part of her life and our everyday struggles as well as triumphs, but it isn't our entire worlds. I want people to see that autistics are more than autism. They can love, enjoy being around others, communicate their needs, have hobbies, and live fulfilling lives with/without support. That Autism isn't a one-size fits all glove like so many people assume. Like a beautiful snowflake, autism is just as unique. 

So the next time a stranger starts asking you questions about your child, don't be afraid and share with them their diagnosis. You might even make a new friend that day or at least you did your part in promoting awareness, acceptance, and love all for the greater good at making this world a more sensitive and caring place. 



Friday, February 5, 2016

Having It All: When Love is Simply Enough

Becoming a mom was something that I desperately wanted to experience. I knew before having Autumn that my life would forever change, that I would face challenges, but at the same time, triumphs. I knew that I would forever embark on an insanely-beautiful journey filled with hope and tears, but in the end, it would all be worth it.

When Autumn was born, I could see my life flash into her eyes. I was unknowingly hers: to serve, to protect, to help prosper, and to eventually let go so that she too could relish in all that life has to offer. I knew that loving Autumn would be simply enough no matter what obstacles we would face together.

So here I am, almost five years later, and I feel a bit wiser, but I also feel lost at times due to not having all of the answers and trying to find a balance within to keep my zen in check.

Over the course of her young life, I’ve learned some harsh truths regarding motherhood and the unpredictability that often resides within this place. The unfortunate loneliness and pain that all mothers endure. This battle within to find a balance, to be able to “have it all”, that often leaves moms feeling overwhelmed, bitter, resentful, and depressed. Thus, can mothers truly “have it all”? I don’t know. It’s that personal question that we, as moms, have to each define within our own journeys.

I knew that I thought I could “have it all”. I truly did. I thought that I could work as a counselor, manage my own private practice, and still be done in time to pick up Autumn from school and to make a delicious homemade Pinterest meal for my amazing husband to enjoy. I thought I could manage being both the backbone of our family as well as a wingwoman, standing alongside my husband, working together, so that he didn’t have to carry that heavy financial burden onto his shoulders alone. I thought that Autumn would be able to attend a childcare program, relish within piano lessons, ballet, and a Montessori curriculum, all before the age of 5. I thought that I would be one of those moms that my friends would admire for keeping a clean home and managing playdates filled with imaginary play and wholesome snacks for the kids, for whom I would inspire, that as a woman and now a wife and mother, I can truly do it all and have whatever I wanted without having to make major sacrifices elsewhere.

Boy was I wrong! As John Lennon stated, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” couldn’t be truer than words. This, my friends, has been my life to-date and probably most of yours.

What changed for me was when I knew something wasn’t “right” with Autumn around the time she was 18 months old. Since she wasn’t meeting her developmental milestones, I got early intervention involved because of my concerns. When she was diagnosed with Autism right after her second birthday, I knew then that my life would forever change even far greater than I had originally imagined when I became her mother on the day she was born.

I decided to put my counseling career on hold and focus solely on my daughter and her overall wellbeing. I knew right then, she needed me the most over anything else within my life and that I would have to make personal as well as professional sacrifices in order to put her needs first. I knew that I couldn’t dedicate myself entirely within the counseling profession when Autumn required so much personal time and care. Almost three years later and I’ve somewhat changed career paths and continue to work around Autumn and her school schedule, and guess what? No regrets because my love for Autumn became far greater than any monetary gain or professional title could provide.

I was the one from the start to raise my daughter, to see her walk, to hear her first words, and to see her excel within her therapies. It’s definitely not the life I had originally envisioned for both Autumn and myself, but its been so much better. I made my choices and have learned to accept them wholeheartedly and now without regret.

When I became a mom, I willingly signed up for this life and all that it would entail. I have learned throughout my own personal grief, guilt, and depression, that it’s okay to struggle, to feel the pain of frustration, isolation and loneliness, but to not stay in this place for long, because I’m never truly alone and that help is right around the corner. That it’s okay to have imagined a different life for my child and myself and to feel jaded at times that things have turned out uniquely, but to not stay in this place for long because I’m strong and worth so much more than to allow my negative thoughts and emotions get the best of me. Plus, my life is pretty darn good.

I’ve also learned that becoming a mother doesn’t mean living for me is over. That I need to take care of myself and find the time to do so, even if that means dust on my tables, dirt on the floors, takeout for dinner, and laundry piling up in the baskets and hiring a babysitter for just a few hours of solace, and guess what: No Regrets. What’s that saying, “a clean house is a sign of a wasted life”? I don’t know about that (insert my own OCD here), but when Autumn wants to go outside and play or build legos together, to me, that’s more of a priority as I know these moments wont last for long and someday she will ask for me less.

I have learned that life is too short to waste away time obsessing over longing for “the perfect life” and “having it all”, because I have so much more to be grateful for that can’t be measured by societal terms and expectations, including letting go of my own grandiose ideals of what “motherhood” should resemble because I’m worth so much more. I’ve learned to stop being so hard on myself and that I still have room for growth. If I mess up today, I take responsibly and move on from my mistakes a little wiser as tomorrow is yet another day and another blessing. I still don’t have the balance thing down, but that’s okay. Life is a process and I am not a finished product.

Thus, to all of the moms out there, please promise me one thing: stop being so hard on yourself and start seeing your own worth. You are the most perfect being. You are authentically human. You are full of a wealth of knowledge, love, and hope. The choices you’ve made up to this point may not be what you had originally desired, but own them. This IS the only life you get, so live it and by God, please put down the vacuum cleaner for now, don’t respond to that work email just yet, go have another cup of coffee, eat that piece of cake, snuggle with your babies in your pjs all day, and enjoy this moment because tomorrow will be gone before your know it.

Bottom line: you DO have it all. Your love is simply enough.



(My #fbf pic of Autumn and me on the beach)