Keeping the Peace

A Special Birthday Blessing & Lucky #7

I’ve been slacking on my blogging, but I couldn’t let today go by without writing a post about this day and how truly special it is. It’s the day I became a mom! Yep, 7 years ago, in 2007 no less. Yeah, 7 has become a favorite number of mine, but it has also been a really lucky one. I don’t really believe in luck per se, but I do believe that we are destined for certain things. I was destined to be mom to one really amazing little girl. What a blessing!

Today is our daughter’s 7th birthday and it’s truly special this year. That’s because we really can’t remember a year when our daughter has been this excited about her birthday. Sure there’s been happy moments enjoying birthday cake, a fun party or two, and of course, some gifts along the way, but she has never been over the moon about her birthday like she is today and man, does it make me smile!

We take for granted that kids always love birthdays, holidays, and celebrations, but for some kids, that isn’t always the case. She is a girl who thrives on a schedule as is the case for most kids. The difference is she starts to dread the day before it even gets here because she gets anxious about the change in her daily routine. Before her birthday comes, we see that anxiety manifest in some challenging behaviors and there are a lot of tears and melt downs leading up to the day, during the day, and even after her birthday passes. She will even say her birthday is on another date completely or continually say it isn’t her birthday at all. She perseverates on the date or when she wants her birthday to happen or not happen for that matter. We love to make memories and have family trips for birthdays, so we haven’t had a lot of parties over the years that haven’t been just family. If I’m being completely honest, part of that was the fear that it might not be such a happy day or that the guests might not be accepting of how she may handle it. Let’s just say, birthdays haven’t been all they are cracked up to be for her and not always enjoyable for all of us.

As parents, we are thrilled to see that this, her 7th birthday, is filled with smiles and a lot of that typical excitement that goes along with a kid having a birthday. I have to say, it feels really awesome! It’s like we all got a special gift this birthday and we can all truly enjoy her, her excitement, and the fun of celebrating together as a family. I just came from volunteering in her class and she is positively glowing! This is the girl I know that is so joyous, full of life and personality, that celebrates every little amazing thing she experiences. It’s contagious and I can’t help but have an extra spring in my step today too.

Here is one of the latest shots from our friend and photographer Courtney Ortiz of our now 7 year old and her best friend and little brother.

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Wow, have they grown! I’m constantly asked if they are twins (like at least once a week) and I have to say, at least for now, they are so attached to each other, it seems they could be sometimes. We wanted them to be close in age and it has really helped them to bond over the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, they have their moments like all kids and siblings, but I am so thankful that they are close and that she has her first real friend in him. He may be her biggest cheerleader and I absolutely love that! Thanks to our friend Courtney for capturing their bond again this year. Make sure to check out all her artwork at Courtney Ortiz Photography

Today I find peace in knowing that my kids are just blooming and that there is joy to be found in even the simplest of things. So grateful for this birthday blessing! I think I will be betting on 7…but mostly I’m betting on this little girl growing up to be an amazing lady, full of the same grace, light and peace she brings to our lives. Happy Birthday G! We love you! xoxo Your brother G, Mom, and Dad

Keeping the Peace

This Is How We Do It

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For the last 4-5 years I cannot count how many times I’ve heard this statement: I don’t know how you do it! This, of course, is in reference to parenting my daughter who has autism. I’m guilty of taking things personal some times, ok a lot of times, but every time I hear this I wonder what the person is thinking when they say it. Surely they have good intentions, but it always feels like one of those back handed compliments like “that outfit is so slimming on you” as in you probably should hit the gym or continue to wear clothing that masks your less than perfect body or “you look great with make up” as in you look like hell without it. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating just a tad, but I’ve never really understood the shock behind the fact that I am “able to do it”. My reply to that comment seems so obvious to me, yet even the sweetest person with the most genuine heart is still incapable of getting it.

I do it for the same reasons you do. I do it because I love my child and I’m a parent. There’s nothing more important to me than my family. When you have children, you love, cherish and take care of them, no matter what challenges there may be and no matter what their abilities. You do it because it is the only thing to do. So, if you have sincerely been trying to compliment me from the get go, I appreciate the love. Please understand though that I am just like you, wanting the best for my child and moving heaven and earth to make that happen for her.

Now as far as the other 900 things “I do” and trying to balance those with parenting in general, in addition to the challenges of autism, that comes as quite the challenge. Some days I feel like I’m on a roll, accomplishing more than I have in the last month and then other days I feel totally defeated. The truth is, I let a lot of things go because it is just impossible to do it all. Even now I’m trying to take things off my plate and say that difficult word NO more (of which I’m totally failing at). Then maybe I can catch up on more than my daughter’s first week of life in photo albums, finish unpacking and organizing my office (we moved almost two years ago), and perhaps more regularly shave my legs. In the meantime, I have wondered how my fellow autism moms juggle everything else on top of homework, therapy, activities, etc. Do they also put themselves last on the totem pole? I’m dying to know if they know how to say NO, you know?!?!

Kristi, one of my dearest friends, also has a child with autism. When I think of a mom that’s got it all together, I think of her. She amazes me! She is a mom to a 7 year old neurotypical son and a 10 year old son, who is also on the spectrum. We’re always talking about this crazy balancing act we are attempting and gently reminding each other to not take too much on. That’s why we thought it would be fun to team up in hopes of helping other autism moms and moms in general, who attempt doing it all! We hope you enjoy it and have a good laugh. If you read this and find yourself judging us, it’s all good. Legs will still go unshaven and teeth will still not be brushed at times. We are perfect in our imperfection.

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Kristi: So I hear that today is Special Mother’s Day. Happy Special Mother’s Day… I think?

Darlene: I should first say that I’m sure whomever came up with this idea had the best intentions. Personally I have mixed feelings about the use of the word special as it is. I mean, all people are special, aren’t they? We all have something about us that makes us uniquely different than anyone else in the world. As a mom of a child with autism, I don’t see myself anymore “special” than the next mom who has challenges. I have a lot of mom friends and I can’t think of one who hasn’t dealt with something that is difficult in their life. So while I appreciate the sentiment, I think I will stick to beIng just a run of the mill mommy who is doing the best job she can to raise her kids. We definitely have the hardest jobs in the world as parents and there’s nothing wrong with having a special day for that. I’m sure the good ‘ol, regular Mother’s Day has us covered.

Kristi: I agree, unless of course Special Mother’s Day suddenly grabs the attention of De Beers or Tiffany & Co. and they agree to corporate sponsorship. Okay question number two: What is the hardest part of your day and how do you deal with it?

Darlene: There’s really not just one part of my day that’s hard. It comes in waves. I would even say that some days it all seems like a breeze and I’m all “you got this girl.” I have this moment of relief like autism just left the building or something. Then a bad night of sleep and a change in teachers for the day causes your child to throw herself on the floor constantly, scream so loud the glass break alarm goes off, and repeat herself incessantly for the rest of the day. Now your anxiety level has been kicked up several notches, you have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the day has planned and you are just trying to survive until wine o’clock. Where do you struggle the most during the day, Kristi?

Kristi: You mean besides in the potty? Kidding! I really do need to hydrate better. Ok seriously, the second my kids get into the car after school my stress levels are through the roof. My “you got this girl” mood instantly turns into a “I wanna be a gone girl” one. On the other hand, I often find the hardest part to be the times they aren’t with me. This is when you’ll find me fumbling through my day trying to fit it* all in so that when they do come home, I can focus on them. Translation = go potty between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., or else.

*it = exercising (I lie), cleaning, laundry-ing, food shopping, cleaning, volunteering, writing, helping out friends, cleaning, and of course, the dreaded cleaning.

Kristi: Do you feel ever feel like you are neglecting your (other) loved ones trying to balance it all? Please say yes.

Darlene: I definitely feel like I have neglected a lot of people and a lot things that I used to love to do. I live so much in the future and worrying about what it holds for my daughter. It’s hard to be present when you are in that place so much. My husband and I don’t get a lot of time alone and when we do we are exhausted. Our son spent a lot of time when he was really little being shuffled back and forth to therapies and even participating in them to help his sister. I wish things could be different for all of them, especially our daughter. I feel like I do the best I can to make sure everyone knows how much I love them, but I wonder the impact it will have down the line. I’m so focused on getting my kid all that she needs and being the best mom I can be, that everything else seems insignificant. I’ve gotten so much better about being intentional and present. That sometimes means letting things go and not everyone can appreciate that. We have a great life together and try to make a lot of great memories together. It’s just different and sometimes a bit more complicated than people realize, but whose life isn’t, really? How are you juggling your family, friends and everything else on your plate?

Kristi: It’s a constant struggle. My real secret is that I don’t sleep. Don’t hate. At the very least, I am rarely still. Oh and I don’t watch T.V. either, with the exception of a little HGTV or Access Hollywood on the DVR (but rarely a full show). Sad, right? The truth is that I would probably be bored if I had less on my plate. I do make it a priority to carve out time for friends, which is the best recharge.

Kristi: Please tell me that you too love to hate social media.

Darlene: Some parts of social media have become necessary for my business, but aside from my obsession with photography it is a love/hate relationship. I know that we’re just watching the highlights of a life and that everyone has their struggles they aren’t posting there, but some people’s lives just look like a walk in the park. It almost feels like they have more freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they want. There is definitely a loss of that in so many aspects of your life, when you go through what we and so many others have. Sometimes social media is a constant reminder of that, but in the real world, there are so many people dealing with way harder stuff than this.

We find ways to have a lot of fun and sometimes in comes in the form of road trips with our kids in our minivan, making PB&Js, singing songs and playing travel bingo. It’s not luxurious, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. I do post those pictures on IG and send them through to FB, so take that highlight reel! All joking aside, I really love Instagram and all the beautiful photography I get to indulge in there. I’m just an amateur photog, but taking pictures really puts me in my happy place and gives me a creative outlet. I did one of those photo a day challenges for two years and I have to say, I really enjoyed it and it was a huge stress relief for me. What’s your beef with social media? P.S. We need to get better about taking pictures. Some crazy selfies are in order.

Kristi: Selfies- yes! Is that done on #Sundays or is that day reserved for #funday? Help! I really have no “beef,” other than the fact that I’ve realized that keeping up with social media (not to be confused with Keeping Up With The Kardashians) can be a full time job. Shit, I can’t even commit to waxing! I rely heavily on local support for my charity, so I work hard (and maybe not smart) to build Facebook engagement. Instagram has become my evening treat, because I sometimes participate in Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day. I have you to thank for turning me on to FMS, and I challenge everyone to try it! Twitter gives me a #headache, although I get that its power is immeasurable. I don’t anticipate anything I have to say will demand a worldwide audience anytime soon so I am in no huge hurry to build a Twitter following. J.R. is though. LOL!

I’m not a fan either of how social media can make one feel, but for a more ridiculous reason. We all can see what friends/followers like, share, retweet, etc. and doesn’t sit well with me when certain ones “selectively” do so. In other words if a person doesn’t note certain posts, my mind races. Did this person not approve of my “fun” or “fortune” or who I am having said fun with? I mean seriously, I have a kid with autism. Please “like” the fact that I applied mascara today! It’s not a competition, I swear! And I often don’t know who I am embarrassed for more- the person who knows everything I am up to but pretends not to, or for myself and the fact that I am even giving this a second thought. In the end, I think both parties need to understand that posts are (like you said) mere snapshots, and rarely ever reflect real life. And let’s not forget the fact that I am uber-sensitive person to begin with. Speaking of real life, what is your go to stress reliever?

Darlene: Who’s stressed? Lol! I would say my go-to stress reliever would be a good book and a coffee or a glass of wine. If I have lots of time, I love taking photographs and writing. These days anxiety has caused me to cut out my favorite beverages so I’m left to read, write, take pictures and drink lots of water. You?

Kristi: Sometimes just getting fresh air helps. On weekends that we don’t have many plans and I start to feel cooped up, I simply sit outside. And sip a simple vodka tonic. Or four. My final and BURNING QUESTION for you Darlene is this: How do you have time to do all of those amazing crafts with your kids? The mere thought of trolling Pinterest for ideas for crafts makes me lightheaded.

Darlene: Pinterest is overwhelming, but every now and then I find something easy the kids and I can make together. It’s really nice when it can be something we create that becomes a part of our home. I follow a lot of blogs and I sometimes get inspiration from all those fab DIYers out there. When you are the one woman mommy summer camp, you will search high and low for projects that you can make last several days. I feel like I need to come over there with my glue gun and glitter and get you rolling. I make a mean set of glitter pumpkins. It’s practically Thanksgiving. You up for it? I’ll pour the wine and watch you drink.

Kristi: Deal!

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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages seven and ten, and also lives in South Florida. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her ten-year-old son with autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with autism to summer camp.

Darlene Giol lives in South Florida and is a mom of a four-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. She mentors and leads a team of business owners across the country. When she can, she shares her stories of finding peace through raising a daughter with autism on her blog The Peace To My Puzzle.

Keeping the Peace

Fight or Flight…Travel, Blogging, and the Courage Factor

Here I am, exactly two months from the launch of my blog, working on a whopping third blog post. I had the best intentions of making this a regular thing, but time has escaped me. Let’s be honest, blogging looks a lot easier than it is really cracked up to be. It’s not like you can just sit down one day and land the perfect piece, photos and all. A certain amount of thought has to go into these things. You want to be creative, current, witty, grammatically correct, and all with the perfect photos attached to it. What’s so hard about that? Aside from the time needed, which no stay-at-home mom has on a regular day (and much less during summer), there’s the whole courage factor.

I know, it sounds crazy to think one would need courage to blog, but it’s so true. I worry if anyone will even like what I’m writing? Will anyone even read it? What will they think of me? Not only that, but I’m being very candid about our struggles and also sharing a lot of our joys and victories on here. Does anyone really care though? Will it be appreciated? Can I make an impact on a life? It’s all very daunting and it does carry a lot of responsibility. I want happy readers! Make this a weekly blog post you say? Ha ha ha! I’ve eaten up two months already just by agonizing over whether or not my writing will be accepted and whether or not my pictures are up to par. Will you settle for bi-monthly? I’m scared of commitment (just kidding).

Actually, this lack of courage thing has been a constant in recent years and not just when it comes to my writing capability. It’s scary to take risks sometimes. In the last few years I’ve developed a fear of flying, which is crazy coming from a person who has flown all over the world, without a second thought. I didn’t have the courage to travel alone and I most certainly didn’t have the courage to attempt flying with my family and my daughter with autism. I would rather drive wherever we wanted to go and stay on the ground, pure and simple. In my mind it was never going to happen!

We recently took a very last minute trip to Puerto Rico for my company’s launch there and to visit some family. I thought that a short flight was the perfect opportunity to put ourselves through the supposed torture. I did gain a lot of courage and learn a valuable lesson from both my kids on our first flight together as a family. I learned that making a situation fun for them made it fun for me. Tinkerbell had sprinkled pixie dust on our plane, so of course we were going to have a magical flight! You would have thought when they received their plastic wings from the flight attendants that they were valuable gems. I secretly have my own pair stashed in my drawer because they were just plain cool. Their courage to just hop on board and make the adventure without a second thought reminded me of being a kid; innocent, unscathed and carefree. My daughter especially floored me with her excitement and her pure joy for the adventure. She didn’t question one sound or bump (whereas I call every noise and shake into question).

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We had an amazing trip together! There were a lot of firsts on this trip besides the flight and the visit to Puerto Rico itself. For the first time they visited National Forest (well, they slept through most of it, as you can see) and Luquillo beach, they saw Old San Juan, they had their first piragua (this is basically the Puerto Rican version of a snow cone), they ate their first pan mallorca (if you visit, two of the best are at and La Bombonera, both in San Juan), and they experienced a little bit of the culture and the paradise that is our Isla Del Encanta (island of enchantment). There are so many amazing things about PR, so make sure to visit if you ever have the opportunity.

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So, as much as I wanted to dodge all the things I was afraid of this year, the journey of peace I’ve been on has had different plans for me. I’ve discovered that without courage, there is no peace. If I didn’t have the courage to write and be open about our experiences, I would not have the peace of knowing that I’m out there sharing our story and making a difference in the lives of others. So, I will be making this writing stuff a regular thing. As far as flying and that whole scene, let’s just say, it’s still not my favorite thing to do. I’m able to relax somewhat and breathe through it (granted a glass of wine would probably improve things). More recently, our Puerto Rico trip gave me the confidence I needed to make a flight to New York on my own and conquer that fear. The main thing is that I’m doing it and I will continue to do it. My kids learned a little bit about their family history and culture and fabulous memories were made. There’s no way I’m missing more of that! Is it still scary to write and put yourself out there? No doubt! Do I still cringe on an airplane? Yep, totally! (wine needed if that’s going to ever change) Here’s the thing though…It’s actually taking that leap and doing whatever scares you the most that will propel you from being paralyzed by fear, to living courageously, intentionally and fully. It’s been more important for me to stay in the game and fight through the challenges, instead of taking “flight” and trying to escape them, if you get my drift.

Speaking of leaps, she also took her first ride on a bigger water slide than she’s ever been on and since this pic, she conquered an even bigger one than one I thought she’d ever do. Another first.

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I often think about how my daughter has courage every day to face autism and her fears. I face anxiety and my instinct is to run away. She faces anxiety regularly, meets her fear head on and moves past it in the time it takes me to decide whether or not I want to confront mine at all. She doesn’t even really get that she has this neurological disorder that has taken pieces of her away that we are all slowly trying to get back and put together with her. Maybe she knows she’s a little bit different or maybe she doesn’t, but hey, we are all different, right? Label aside, she just works hard every day to learn and grow more through her challenges. Most of us can’t even imagine challenges like these, yet we still live in fear of what we don’t know or what a particular outcome might be instead of just enjoying the journey.

Here’s my advice…travel, blog, and do whatever your heart desires! Don’t let fear keep you from your dreams or keep you from sharing the unique things you have to offer to this world. Embrace the challenges, don’t run from them. Take some leaps or even baby steps, but keeping moving forward. Make the adventure with your spouse, a family member, or your best pal. Most importantly, enjoy your journey and by all means, be brave!

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Keeping the Peace

When It’s Art, Not Just Photography

Since her art graces our homepage (and will surely be popping up all around our blog), I knew that my next post just had to be about our friend and photographer, Courtney Ortiz, of Courtney Ortiz Photography. You can read more about Courtney’s work here http://www.courtneyortiz.com/meet-courtney/  We had the pleasure of having a family session with Courtney and then more recently, she took professional headshots for me (that’s for a future post).

As some of you know, I’ve been obsessed with photography since I was a little girl.  I think my mom had a huge part in that because she always had a camera in her hand.  As a teenager, I’m sure I cringed at the thought of yet one more shot of me on stage or at a school event.  I’m sure I rolled my eyes a time or two at the request for one more big smile so that she could capture the perfect shot.  Over the years though, I grew to love the art and have loved taking my own photographs and capturing those amazing moments in time.  While I’m no professional, I definitely learned how to look through my lens with a different perspective and how to be creative with my shots.  My mom definitely taught me a thing or two about all that. I gained a huge respect and admiration for those who have made a career out of it and are truly artists.    It’s only as an adult that I appreciate all those pictures my mom took and what she instilled in me when it comes to cameras and photography.  I find such a peace now in taking pictures and preserving them for my family.  I especially love when they are displayed on my walls like the art that they are! (Side note, I have what I thought was a great pic of my wall display, but it turns out it’s only Instagram ready. So keep an eye out for that snapshot in a future post).

So, back to Courtney….it was truly an amazing gift to have the opportunity to be her subjects in a photo session.  We have been lucky to work with a few great photographers, from our wedding day, up to the birth of our children, and including some of our kids’ milestones.  I’ve loved all their work and I highly value what each of them do.  No one has more appreciation for it than this lady!  This experience was like no other though and it’s one that keeps on giving.  Courtney has become a friend, which definitely made working with her a breeze!  What’s amazing is how effortlessly she shot us and really captured the essence of our family.  There is a whole lot of fun and personality here and an abundance of love.  She nailed it all from behind her lens. Then, what came out on the other side was magic.. the most perfect and treasured pieces of art, all of my family.  She was so great with my kids and I suspect some of that comes from her teacher background…my teacher friends are always the best with my littles!  I especially loved how she captured their sibling relationship.  They argue like all brothers and sisters, but they have a ton of fun and are the best of friends.

We had the kids’ Halloween costumes with us, so we promised they could don them for the first time, if they followed directions and played along for the photo session.  Courtney was so spot on when she actually let them wear them for some of the shots because it truly brought out their personalities.  She was patient, sweet and fun, which we all know is a necessity when working with kids. I watched in amazement as she engaged our children and I saw how she worked with our daughter if she struggled with anything.  She is so quick with that camera (extraordinary professional that she is), yet it seemed like she slowed us down for a little bit to where we could just be ourselves and enjoy the moment.  That’s when the magic happens and she creates her masterpiece.  Most importantly, mommy felt stress free and we all know if mommy is happy, everyone is!

I’m excited to share just a few of our favorite shots from our session with Courtney Ortiz Photography.  Make sure to check out her website at www.courtneyortiz.com and give her a follow on facebook at www.facebook.com/courtneyortizphotography  When you are looking for that extra special photographer that just gets you and your family and can relay that to photographic art….art that will grace the walls of your home for many years to come and that you and your family will treasure for many generations…..well, look no further.  Courtney Ortiz Photography is where it’s at!

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Keeping the Peace

The Start of My Search for Peace

I had hoped that my very first blog post would make its debut during the month of April.  As you can see and as I remember my father would so fittingly  put things “I’m a day late and a dollar short”.   I struggled with what would be the very first story I would share here.  Where do you start when you have a million experiences you want to share that have led you to this exact moment?  In all honesty I’m taking the easy route on this first post.  I’m reflecting on a piece I was asked to write just two years ago, about our personal journey with autism.  Inevitably, it wasn’t used for that person’s blog, but my ever so awesome friend and fellow autism warrior mom scooped it up for her amazing charity’s blog called Puzzle Peace Now.  The best part of the experience was that she asked me to add a paragraph to my write up about how I find my peace.  I thought it was a great idea, but had absolutely no clue how I found my peace.  Most likely that was because I had none.  It really made me think about what I did for myself to be in that place of serenity when life was serving up challenges and I was surrounded by complete chaos.  Little did I know that is when my search for peace began.

Much like two years ago, I desperately wanted my blog and my first story to fall during autism awareness month.  I guess it is appropriate that once again I missed the month and probably for the same reasons…fear of putting it out there, wanting to make the awareness last a bit longer (past when the media gives it constant attention), and partially because being bombarded by autism awareness for a month can sometimes be too much when you are already living it every day.  It’s probably one of our most important stories though because it effects of our whole family and it is essentially what brought me to this place.  So, I’m reflecting on that piece I wrote on this my very first official blog post.  I think it is the best place to start this new adventure and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share it with those of you who haven’t read it.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012 (Originally posted on Puzzle Peace Now’s blog http://www.puzzlepeacenow.com/blog/2012/07/12/Darlene-G-.aspx )

I’ve always been a dreamer and a planner.  All my life I dreamed of having a family.  I married my best friend and was blessed with a little girl and then a little boy.  My dreams of a family came to fruition.  Together, my husband and I made plans for our children’s future.  We tried our best to prepare for the challenges this life can serve up, never losing sight of our dreams.
 
What we have learned in our almost eight years of marriage is that we cannot plan for everything.  We could never have been prepared for our daughter’s autism and we certainly never dreamed of it.  Her diagnosis rocked us to our very core.  It made our family’s future seem a little less bright and it seemed to shatter our dreams in an instant.
 
Our daughter was diagnosed just recently, at the age of three.  She hit all her milestones and any concerns we had for her development were minor.  Nothing jumped out and pointed to autism, at least no autism we knew of.  We just knew she was a very special girl of great intelligence.  We celebrated what made her special, but those same differences were not embraced by everyone.   Friends were lost along the way.  Little did we know that from the day she was born, leading up to her diagnosis, and beyond it, we were being prepared to have the best, most loving support in place.  We would be surrounded by the kind of people we needed, to help us make our way through the journey ahead.
 
April was autism awareness month.  Part of me thinks I delayed writing this piece because I didn’t want the awareness to end with the month of April and part of me feels like I delayed writing it because I wanted to be done with being bombarded about awareness after April.  I also knew that sharing our personal story would be very emotional and hard for me to get through on paper.  We are still very new to the world of autism and still need to educate ourselves every day.  While we deal with this disorder day in and day out, most people have no clue what our autism looks like.  That’s because the spectrum is so vast and there are so many faces of autism.  So, we have tried to be very open on our journey of awareness so that others may be enlightened along the way.  Awareness is “having knowledge of” and while we have first-hand experience with autism, too many people do not know anything about autism.  Our hope is that if more people understand autism, more people will find the need to help end this growing health crisis.  More people will fight to find a definitive cause and more importantly a cure for this horrible neurological disorder that robs so many of so much.  Maybe even more people will treat kids like ours with the love and kindness every child deserves.
 
It has definitely taken a village, but our daughter’s future is shining brighter than ever! It truly is amazing what early intervention can do.  She has been surrounded by the most exceptional therapists, teachers, and loving adults who care for her, consistently engage her, and who have never expected anything less than amazing things from her.  She is “high-functioning” and is exceptionally smart.  Her progress has been nothing short of amazing. We are excited that in the near future she will be able to be in a regular kindergarten class.
 
Still, most days are challenging.  Often we deal with tantrums and melt downs that other parents never face.  We have to become experts in behaviors and language in order to work through issues of flexibility and help our child to communicate.  We still have things to work through and tons of progress to be made. The insurance headaches never go away and the bills never stop coming.   It’s a daily job advocating on our daughter’s behalf, on top of our regular jobs, running a business, and doing our best to raise funds and awareness for autism causes.  The rigorous daily schedule of school, therapies and activities can be exhausting for her and our whole family.  Life is definitely a little more complicated and it can be extremely stressful.  The worrying never ends and the tears keep flowing. You have all these dreams and hopes for your child that you feel you will never see come to life.
 
At the same time, we have gained so much in the wake of autism.  By that I mean, autism has taught us a lot about this life.  It hasn’t been a blessing or a gift.  Our child is the gift.  Autism is something that is just plain horrible. It causes heartbreak for our family on a daily basis and has taken away pieces of our daughter.  However, autism has taught me more understanding, patience and acceptance than anything else has in my life.  When faced with something that is so challenging and so life-changing, you are forced to grow in ways that you would otherwise never expect.  We have bigger and even better dreams for our family that we know we can and will achieve.  We’ve stopped planning so much and started living a bit more.  Most importantly, there is so much love…an abundance of it! It surrounds us, supports us and lifts us up every day.
 
It sounds strange, but I do feel our family has found a certain peace in the wake of autism.  Peace and love – what more do we need, right? Sure, we all come across challenges and negativity in this life, but surrounding ourselves with all things positive and peaceful definitely makes this reality easier to navigate.  Our family’s peace is found in life’s simple pleasures. It’s in our times spent at the beach and in our little getaways.  We feel it right before we start a new day and when we’ve tucked our kids in for the night. We have peace when we see their smiles, when we hear their giggles, and while we watch them play together.  I find peace in painting, reading, and music. My husband finds his peace rocking out with his band. Together we enjoy peace over a great meal and a nice glass of wine (or several glasses, depending on the day). It’s not always easy, but it’s about doing our best to carve out that time for ourselves.  Our peace is in knowing that our daughter is happy, that she is thriving and that she is doing and is going to do so many amazing things. 
 
Autism is not who our daughter is, it’s what she has.  It does not define her.  She’s just a regular little  four year old girl who loves the beach, dancing, music, piano, swimming, dress up, and of course, Disney.   She could be your daughter.  Yes, she is different because she has been affected by this terrible neurological disorder called autism, but if you can look beyond that you will be one of the lucky ones to discover someone exceptionally beautiful, inside and out.
 
My advice to all those families, like ours, who have been newly diagnosed, is simple.  Plan a little less and dream a little more.  Practice your patience, work on acceptance of all differences and build your awareness.  Put on your armor every day and get ready for the fight of your life.  You are your child’s best advocate, so stare autism square in the face and say “Bring it!” Join the fight to find the cause and a cure wherever and whenever you can.  Remember that you’re not alone.  Your community is here to support you.  Surround yourself with peace, love and positive people.  We may be living with autism now, but I truly believe that in the end, love will conquer all.  Autism will lose this fight!  Finally, there will be many people that tell you your child “Can’t”.  To them I say, “Watch her!”
Make sure to visit www.puzzlepeacenow.com to see all the amazing things they are doing for kids with Autism in our community