This is going to sound a little strange to some of you and you might even find yourself crinkling up your nose at what I’m about to say. Others will understand and quite possibly agree.
Autism is something I am most thankful for this year!
Why would I be thankful for a disorder that causes my baby to struggle with the simplest tasks? Why would I choose this above all other things in my life? Autism is not something I ever prayed for Jake to have. Autism is not something I would say is the best thing that ever happened in my life. But autism has opened my eyes to others. It has opened my mind and especially my heart to see things beyond what the eye can see. Autism has changed me for the better.
As I sit here and think about what it is like having an autistic child one of the first words that pops into my head is “hard”. It is so very hard. It is difficult for me to describe what each day is like for me, my family and especially Jake. But the word that follows ‘hard’ is JOY. This boy brings me (us) so much joy. The daily challenges he overcomes and the way he tries his best to be the best fills my heart with so much joy and love it is nearly indescribable.
We have been on this journey for quite some time. There have been days where I didn’t think we could reach a goal much less reach Jake. There have been a lot of tears and a lot of heartache. I am sure there will be many more tears shed as well as many more moments that I feel my heart can’t take the pain I feel.
But I find that I am focusing more on the victories than the struggle. I look for those victorious moments more and more each day. They are there if I pay close attention and focus on them.
Last night Jake was playing with his little people and cars. One of his dump trucks had broken. In the past (and by the past I mean last month) he would have screamed and cried and told me to fix it for him. For Jake it was devastating that his toy “broke” and he couldn’t see past that particular moment. During those moments the world he knew changed, he reacted as if it was a catastrophic event. When I saw his truck had broken (for the millionth time) I held my breath, bracing for the scream and said “bring it to mommy, I’ll fix it”. Jake looked at his dump truck and said “I’ve got it. Jake can fix it.” As I watched him replace the part that had fallen off; joy filled my heart. He sat there and worked on his truck until it was fixed. Jake looked at me and said “ta-da” and went about playing.
When it was time for bed John told Jake to clean up his toys. Jake loves to drag out every toy and watch them fall out of whatever container they are stored in; he loves the sound and watching the toys go every which way. All of Jake’s little people had been dumped on the lid of the container. I again held my breath, ready for a meltdown. Jake did fuss a little but John quickly said “I told you if you dumped them out, you would clean them up.” Jake looked at the people on the lid and carefully picked up the lid and dumped all of his people into the container where they belong. He runs over to me and says triumphantly “I did it!” He sure did! He could have cried as he picked up the people one-by-one but instead he looked at the situation and saw the best way to clean up. I know this doesn’t sound like a momentous occasion but honestly it was!
Again the pride and joy flooded my heart. It was in that moment that I realized if it hadn’t been for autism I might have missed this milestone.
I used to celebrate the big victories, you know the ones that most of us notice and can see instantly. I still do, but now I find that I celebrate the tiniest of achievements. I can see them more now as my eyes are open wide to witness and experience every ‘ta-da’ moments because those little victories are the big ones!
I am thankful for John. I am thankful that he listens and encourages Jake, he holds Jake accountable for his actions, and he is there for me when I need backup (which is often). I am thankful for Allie. I know being a big sister to a special needs brother is more than difficult at times. There is an 11 year age difference. They fight like siblings do and it gets on my last nerve. But I see her teaching him, loving him and encouraging him each and every day. The love that she shows to her brother is breathtaking. I am thankful for Jake’s oldest brothers and their significant others. They treat Jake the same way they would treat any other child that is 5 years old. It’s a little different because they have never lived with Jake as they are 19 and 20 years older than him. What I love about each of them is that they respect Jake, they love him and even though they might not know this; they teach him each time they are around. I am thankful for Jake. He brings so much joy and happiness to each one of us. His happy disposition is infectious. And of course his smile; it’s always there!
I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But if autism weren’t a part of my life I would not be the person I am today. I am stronger. I am able to advocate for my child. I have more patience. I am more understanding and I see others in a different light. Autism has taught me a lot about myself. There are things I have learned about myself that I like, while other things not so much.
Having an autistic child is difficult but it has helped shape me into a better person as well as a better mother. For that I will always be thankful!