Once upon a time, I walked my daughter into her kindergarten classroom. I was so excited for her to start school, learn a lot, and grow. There were a lot of things I was concerned about. But for the most part I felt so much joy for her and all she was going to experience in the next six years.
Now she is about to graduate from fifth grade and my emotions are all over the place. Much like autism, it’s a roller coaster that never seems to end. So many ups and downs. There are so many successes to celebrate, and a million fears to dwell on. Some days, well most days, I’m completely at a loss for how to navigate it all.
In The Struggle
On a regular day, it’s hard to keep things in perspective in this fast paced, complicated, and sometimes terrifying world. If you watch the news for two seconds, it’s easy to contemplate living in a bubble. Everyone is running around trying to accomplish more and do do do all day. There’s not enough time for being still and present. In many ways, we have lost the beauty of a simple life because we have added so much to it that isn’t necessary. You add autism to the mix of an already insanely busy schedule and it can definitely cause you to lose site of what’s important. It can also have you wondering if you’re coming or going at times.
Let me give you a prime example. This week I’ve poured creamer on my pancakes, got into the shower with my eyeglasses on, and I’ve literally thought it was Wednesday three times. Maybe all this emotion and overwhelm is partly because I’m in my 40’s? But the more we talk about fifth grade ending and the more middle school comes up in conversation, the more I seem to be collectively losing my grip on things. I’m crying at the drop of a hat. I mean, just now I starting tearing up at a Meatloaf song, so what gives? I’m jumping way ahead of myself and creating all types of scenarios that are not likely to happen. I cannot conceive of letting go and letting her move on to this next phase.
Hard Work Can Pay Off
But I have to. Because she’s ready, even if I’m not. She is as prepared as she possibly can be, even if I’m at a loss. I’m struggling big time. It’s probably always going to be tough letting her grow, but this is what we wanted. This is what we hoped for when we immersed ourselves in research and resources, made countless sacrifices, put her into a ton of daily therapies we couldn’t afford, and challenged her to be all she was meant to be. Now we are starting to see all the things she’s really great at. We’re focusing more on that, and less on what she struggles with. We’ve been watching her grow into this incredible individual, an amazing person that we hope everyone will accept for all that she is.
Growing Up Fast
There will always be challenges. Struggle is a part of life for all of us. There’s no avoiding that. But having those struggles has made us truly appreciate the victories. If we focus more on her strengths and support her where her weaknesses are, she will continue to grow in all areas. This is a girl who went from not being able to put a sentence together eight years ago, to advocating for herself in her own words. The joy we have seeing how far she’s come through all those obstacles is just indescribable.
The other day she went in front of her elementary school on the morning news to talk about autism and share how she hopes all people on the spectrum, and people with any differences, will be accepted for who they are. She said they can do anything they put their mind to. I love her positive outlook on things. To say she has blown me away with the confidence she has built up is an understatement. I am so proud that she shares her autism openly. I feel she will truly make a difference in this world by doing so.
Becoming an Advocate
Her message is important as a child with autism. She understands that the spectrum is vast and that every single person on it has different challenges and needs different amounts of support. She knows very well that there are many who have difficult struggles that she doesn’t have, struggles that people aren’t comfortable with hearing about or seeing, but that need to be seen and understood. Autism has many faces and challenges. It’s so important for everyone to learn that there are many people like her, who (as we explained it to her for the last few years) have brains that work a bit differently. We need all kinds of minds in this world.
Once upon a time, I had a little girl just three years old, who was diagnosed with autism. Now she is eleven and entering middle school. She’s changing how people see autism, one heart at a time. She’s showing people what it means to be fully included and that’s something we want for all people on the spectrum. I don’t want to let her go and I’m afraid of all the ignorance she may encounter. There’s so many scary things to worry about. I’m struggling, and I probably always will to some degree. But she is thriving, challenges and all. She’s making a difference in her own little way and I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things she will accomplish.
Joy Over Struggle
So I’m going to try to not let any amount of struggle outweigh the happiness her achievement brings or let it take away the immense pride I feel for all the hard work she’s put in all these years. I won’t let the negative people, who try to lessen what she has overcome, ruin this moment. They can’t steal the joy that comes from the utter awe I feel for the way she has handled all the heartache and troubles along the way. She made it this far and she can do it again.
Yes, once upon a time, I had a dream for my little daughter. I had a dream that she would go to school and some day move on from kindergarten. That dream came true and then some. Here’s to my soon to be middle schooler. May you make waves, may you change hearts, may you enlighten minds, and may you achieve all your dreams. And when you struggle along the way, just know mom is struggling too, and it’s ok. That will just make the triumphs that much sweeter for us both.