As a Chicken Soup co-author I’m always looking for your stories to share with everyone else. Not too long ago I did a “call out” to my members asking for heartwarming stories and was overwhelmed with over 2500 submissions. I know you will enjoy hearing from others so I am going to be sharing them with you on a weekly basis. Here is the fifth one from Nancy Bernotaitis!
Autism Is Definitely Not for Wimps
(By Nancy Bernotaitis)
I’ve heard it said that parenthood is not for wimps. If that’s true, then parenting a child with autism is definitely not for wimps.
With two fairly well-adjusted kids and a marriage intact, I thought I was pretty good at the mommy thing. Then God threw us a curveball. Remember everything you’ve learned about being a mom? Well, throw it out the window because it won’t work. Your special child will not care how his behavior affects anyone else, if “everyone in the store is looking” at him, or if he should be ashamed of himself. He’s not. Being the parent of a special needs child is going to challenge your imagination, creativity, and patience more than you ever thought possible. You will be forced to look at the world through his eyes and figure out how he thinks, how he sees the world, before you can begin to figure out why he does the things he does. Then you’ll have to adapt your way of doing things to accommodate that.
For instance, when we began toilet training our youngest, we would sit him on the toilet backwards, which required complete undressing from the waist down, to be sure his aim was on target. After a year of this, we decided it was time for him to stand up like all the other boys. Our older son had made this transition on his own so we figured it was just natural. Lesson #1, almost nothing comes natural to our special kids. When we tried to stand him in front of the toilet, he would scream bloody-murder until we gave in, mostly out of fear, and quickly placed him on the toilet backwards. So I analyzed the situation, looking at it from his point of view. He obviously did not understand what we were asking of him. I then took a piece of construction paper, traced around his feet, stuck it to the floor in front of the toilet with contact paper, and waited for nature to call. When it did, I walked him into the bathroom, stepped onto the outlines with my own feet, and then backed up. I, literally, saw the lightbulb go on over his head and heard an audible *ding*. He then stepped into the outline of his own feet and tinkled in the toilet. Problem solved! It was a miracle!
Nothing in my life before I had a special needs child prepared me for the life I have now. It’s stressful, chaotic, frustrating, and challenging beyond belief. When I was the mother of two typical kids, I was arrogant, I’ll admit it. I breezed through the day kissing boo-boos and packing lunches like Mary Poppins. Then I fell down the rabbit hole. It’s as if everything has been magnified. It’s 100 times harder than parenting a typical child but when joy comes, it’s overwhelming. I get sad when I realize that parents of typical kids just have the typical milestones to reach. Nothing spectacular, everyone does it eventually. They rarely get to feel that they’ve witnessed a miracle. With autism, there is no roadmap so everything is a surprise, everything is huge, everything is a gift. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my typical children as they reached each and every milestone, but with this last one I get to witness a miracle every single day.
About the author: Nancy Bernotaitis is the mother of three children, two “typicals” and one diagnosed with autism. She provides in-home childcare specializing in special needs. Nancy currently volunteers as President of the Dayton Chapter of the Autism Society of America and sits on several committees including the Miami Valley Autism Coalition, the Ohio Autism Coalition, and the Parent Advisory Council. She lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband of 20 years, her 3 kids, an autism service dog, and 3 cats.