This past weekend our daughter turned eleven. It’s so hard to believe that eleven years have gone by since she was born. Before my husband and I even met, we named her. Grace means God’s blessing. Her life has blessed our family in more ways than I could have ever imagined. She is an amazing little human.
It’s hard to explain how uniquely special Grace is. It’s not something you can understand unless you spend some time with her and really get to know her. She has this profound way of seeing the good in every person she comes across. Her personality lights up a room and her joy is contagious. She is someone we want the world to know and at the same time, we sometimes wish we could keep her safe in our family’s little bubble.
Autism is so different in every person. Grace is no exception. I’m the first to say that while we have experienced daily challenges, there is always someone who has it much harder than us. But it’s still our hard. It does not diminish the struggles she has or how difficult it can be for our whole family. But it has also made us appreciate and celebrate her achievements that much more.
Since I realized her 11th birthday was approaching, I had been thinking a lot about all of the challenges she has faced over the years and all the things we’ve learned because of her. So many times, especially recently, I’ve been told that she doesn’t look like she has autism. Many people have told me that she seems “normal” to them. Sometimes they think so much comes easy to her. They are well meaning people, but they just don’t get it.
I’m sure it makes some people more comfortable to believe she’s a typical kid, but she’s not. I guess they think autism looks a certain way, but it doesn’t. More importantly, there’s nothing abnormal about her. She is different in some really amazing ways and as the saying goes, that doesn’t make her less. They see the result of eight years of hard work, multiple therapies, social skills groups, and a long list of other supports and intervention. None of that has come easy to her or any of us.
I try to share our experiences on here in the hopes that it may help another person with autism or a family living with autism to know they’re not alone. One day I hope she shares her own story here. My hope has always been that our story will resonate with someone else and inspire them to have faith, strength, and hope when things get hard. Today, in honor of her 11th birthday, I want to share how she amazes me, despite what she has endured.
Grace has a strong faith and belief in God. This is a concept that can be hard for typical children to grasp, let alone a child on the spectrum. Yet she asks the hard questions, reads her Bible to grow her knowledge, and even did the work to receive her sacraments. She tries to model her life after her beliefs. It is inspiring and amazing to me.
She is a kind, beautiful, and sweet soul. She’s been bullied and treated like she’s invisible, and yet she still treats the people who disregard her with kindness. Even at this young age, she’s learning forgiveness which most adults can’t even grasp. That’s truly amazing.
I’ve noticed she’s gotten really good at telling jokes and picking up on humor. She has the most contagious laugh! She’s even starting to grasp the concept of sarcasm. For someone who takes most things pretty literally, that is a huge accomplishment. Many times she’s actually the object of a joke or someone makes fun of her right in front of me. Sometimes she’s still blissfully unaware of how cruel people can be, but lately she’s been becoming more aware of how people react to her. I’m amazed at how funny and how strong she is.
I always marvel at how hard she works to make friends. Not only that, but the effort she puts forth to be a good friend. This from a kid who has played alone for years. A girl who instead of having playdates and activities, was participating in social skills groups. Over the years, her hard work has made for a few amazing friends.
When she was little, we couldn’t go into a bathroom with automatic flushers and dryers without her having a total meltdown and covering her ears. These days, she holds it together and even encourages me to use the dryers instead of paper towels because it’s more green. There was a time when she had a ton of vocabulary, but couldn’t put a sentence together that wasn’t scripted from a television show. Now she’s conversing about the history of baseball, players, and their stats and schooling me on being more eco-friendly. It’s amazing how far she’s come.
It’s amazing to see her excelling in so many things. She swims regularly and is growing in her sport, when organized sports never really worked out for her. She sings on her own, sings in choirs, plays piano by ear, and is learning to play other instruments. In the art of music, she’s very talented. Yet she was turned away from dance and we were told we shouldn’t try to include her in a regular class like that. She gets straight As, earns kid of character awards, and keeps it all together day in and day out, all while being in a gifted classroom. This from a kid who struggled with reading comprehension, testing, behaviors and sensory processing.
Grace participates in clubs at school and is even a safety patrol. She went from having trouble comprehending instructions to enforcing the rules. She’s working on her Girl Scout Junior Bronze Award and constantly wants to work on more badges. Her science, math, and leadership skills earned her the opportunity to attend a special STEM program at a university this summer. A couple weeks ago she won a pageant. It has been so wonderful to see her recognized for her amazing abilities instead of ignored because of her disability.
But with all she has accomplished, we know there will still be challenges ahead. We know there will still be people that won’t expect much from her and people that will pretend she doesn’t exist. She is a big dreamer and has worked hard to build confidence in herself. Every day she pushes herself to learn more, do better, and be better. I’m in awe of all she does and I witness the hard work she puts into every part of her life.
Most importantly, she is a wonderful daughter, sister, and grand-daughter. She has learned to communicate well and express feelings. Her empathy is so touching, especially when she use to not be able to read facial expressions or emotions. She really engages with our family and has even been able to make good eye contact, when she still sometimes struggles looking people in the eye. Grace has such a big heart and loves with such a light. After a long time of never saying it, she tells us all she loves us regularly. Knowing the effort she makes in every moment she interacts with all of us, makes the love she shares with us that much more amazing.
So, yes, our Grace is amazing. Just like every person with autism, she has her challenges. None of what she has achieved over the years has come easy. Much of it has come with a lot of heartbreak and a lot of isolation from others. But it’s all helped her grow into this beautiful young girl. What is most amazing is the blessing that God bestowed on us by putting her in our lives to love and protect. She has made the world more beautiful by just being in it. That is our amazing Grace.
Happy 11th birthday sweet girl. There are no limits to what you can do. Keep dreaming big. Go out and change our world for the better. You are beautifully, wonderfully made and loved beyond words.