Mercy, it’s been a long 10 days…a daughter recovering from surgery; called out of town for a much needed, much enjoyed get away with my husband; returning home to not being able to flush our toilets; plumbers not fixing the problem; plumbers’ office staff not returning phone calls; and finally different plumbers within the same unit working for hours to solve the problem just before Thanksgiving. Patience to get through it all without alienating everyone close to me? Priceless. Thank you, Autism, for teaching me to breathe through the difficulties and patiently putting one foot in front of the other. Through it all, I’ve kept writing…here it is, the last of why I’m thankful for autism.
22. Individuality – Most of us spend a significant portion of our lives trying to figure out who we are, or who we think we are and who we want to be and trying to find a way to meld the two into one. How blessed are the ones who are exactly who they are made to be, without reservation. Thank you, Autism, for allowing my so to be “him” in the purest form possible. This anonymous quote pretty much sums it up: “Autism, there is no ‘typical.’ No portrait to paint. No two who are alike. Like snowflakes, they resemble, yet remain unique. Therein lies the challenge for parents, patients, and physicians.” And yet, the way I see it, autism is exactly what allows Ben to be, well, Ben.
23. Understanding – Someday, autism will be completely understood, until then, we appreciate your understanding. We don’t have the resources available to jump into researching all there is to understand about autism. Even if we understood it all, that wouldn’t change the fact that it is an integral part of our lives. But we can help to build awareness by sharing our lives. With awareness comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance. Please understand that when our son is loud and seems to be upset, he’s not giving us a hard time, he’s having a hard time. He’s not necessarily being naughty, he could very well be suffering from sensory overload, even if it doesn’t seem to you like there’s all that much going on, you don’t see, hear and feel things the way Ben does. Please understand that you can’t possibly understand how our son is experiencing life, and sometimes, it’s just hard. We all need freedom to melt down from time to time, most of us can just control when and where we finally give in to that need. Thank you, Autism, for helping me to understand when he cannot wait another moment before that happens for him.
24. A Full Heart – You know that feeling of pride and excitement that overwhelms you when your child takes his first step, recites the alphabet, counts to 10, 20, and beyond, rides his first two-wheeler? Yea, that. We get that feeling over things like having a question answered, for real, with words. Tears brim the eyelids when our son freely and openly tells us something about his day, especially when it comes unsolicited. Autism makes it difficult for Ben to be able to do the things so many of us take for granted, but thanks to this, we get to experience that overwhelming sense of pride many more times than typical parents because we realize how difficult everyday life can be and we are proud of him for navigating his way through our world.
25. A Whole New World – Just prior to our visit to Easter Seals for Ben’s diagnostic clinic day, a very wise friend of mine cautioned me that no matter the result of our day, Ben would still be the same Ben in the evening that he was in the morning. No diagnosis, no label could ever define him or change the amazing little guy he is. Oh, the wisdom my friend imparted!! She was so right. And of course, we knew that, but being reminded was a good thing. We did come home with a diagnosis that day, and with it, our tickets to a whole new world. Thank you, Autism, for showing us a new world, one which we can experience with the same unique, lovable, funny, awesome little boy we’ve known since the day he was born. Autism is a diagnosis, not a dead end. It’s the beginning of a whole new world with a roller coaster of adventures. Sometimes we’re up and sometimes we’re down, but there’s never a dull moment!
26. My health – Thank you, Autism, for improved health. Seems crazy, right? Since you have entered our lives, I’ve come to realize that I need to take better care of myself so I can take better care of my son. Part of this is how I eat and sleep and learn. I’m still working on the sleep thing. Sometimes I’m all over it, but sometimes I sacrifice sleep to keep up with other areas of my life. I need to get better at this. On the flip side, I do better on some other fronts. You didn’t cause me to start running, but there are many days, you keep me running. Running has become an integral part of who I am and how I keep moving. I never would have thought that would be the case and I’m sure all of my gym teachers and coaches over the years would agree with that, but it’s true. On days that I don’t want to run, I go because I know I will have time to think and I know I will feel better when I’m done. On days I do want to go, you push me to go farther and stronger, imagining my kids are watching, or their safety depends on me. Mostly though, I go because of the “what ifs”…What if Ben decided to go for a walk and didn’t ask or tell us? It’s happened before, it could happen again. What if he wandered a little too far past his favorite tree and ended up on or near the road? What if he decided to pet the cows? What if he wandered into the cornfield? What if his desire to swim was just too big and overpowered everything we’ve taught him about not getting in the water alone? I run because of the “what ifs” – What if someday, his life depended on me getting there soon enough?
27. Understanding that things are not always as they seem – Thank you, Autism, for helping me to look beyond the surface. Loud does not always mean anger. Screaming does not always mean tantrum. Tears do not always mean defeat. Silence does not always mean disinterest or a lack of understanding.
28. Joy – Thank you, Autism, for bringing more joy into my life. We, as a family, have never laughed so much as we do now that you are here. Our boy is the picture of joy as he fully embraces whatever activity he chooses to do. He embraces life with every ounce of his being. His giggle brings a smile to every face around. His eyes, they sparkle brighter than the brightest star. His laughter is contagious, and the way he throws his whole body into a hug just can’t be beat. Thank you, Autism. This is joy unspeakable.
29. Snuggles – It’s true, our boy still loves to snuggle, when he sits still long enough, that is. Some kids on the spectrum don’t like to be touched. In fact, hugging hurts for some kids. We are so thankful this is not the case for Ben. We start the day with protests that he wants night and we end the night with protests that he wants day, but on each ends of the day, we get a few precious moments of snuggle time with our guy. It’s part of him and who he is, just like autism is part of him. One cannot be separated from the other, and that’s okay. He is who God made him to be, and we are so very blessed he is ours.
30. Patience – I almost chuckle as I think back over the last 15 years of my life as a parent. I can’t even begin to count how many times I have prayed, asking God to grant me patience, to help me be a more patient person. And then He sent Ben. We’ve had no other choice than to learn to be more patient, to take more deep breaths, to lower our voices, to slower our paces, and to be in the moment. Thank you, Autism, for helping me to be more patient.
And Thanksgiving – Of course, we are all thankful in this season, but because of autism, I think we are especially thankful of all the little things that most people take for granted. Things even we took for granted before autism, such as laughter, looking into the eyes of our children, hearing their voices and being able to have a conversation, having the freedom to dream of their future and listen to their dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. We enjoy these aspects of parenthood with our children and treasure the sweet moments that Ben lets us into his world so we can begin to dream with him. Thank you, Autism, for helping us to realize the precious nature of these moments.