“Oh, I’m so sorry” “Poor thing” “It must be really hard for you”
These are just some of the things I hear when someone finds out I am the mother of a child on the Autism Spectrum.
When I first received my sons diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder PDD-NOS it came as no surprise, but it was still a hard pill to swallow. I soon began to realize this would not be an easy road for him or me. I started to think about all the challenges he would face in his life because of the Autism. Worst than that; I began to dwell on them. My days were filled with thoughts of all he would miss out on, the social difficulties he would face, and the many other things that would affect his daily living. I wondered if he would ever make friends, learn his time tables, get a job or even get married.
One day while reading it occurred to me that I was setting my son up for failure…I was selling him short. He was capable of much more than I was giving him credit for. I had been looking only at the negative side of Autism; at only the frustration, anxiety and hopelessness it can sometimes bring. Then one word came to mind….JOY.
Joy is defined as experiencing great pleasure or delight; enjoyment in. Some of may be wondering what delight could I have gotten out of Autism. It’s not necessarily the autism itself, but the experiences I have with a child affected by Autism.
For example, we attend church regularly as a family. I can’t remember the last time I have actually sat through an entire service; my son is unable to sit still long enough or be quite during the appropriate times. So we always seem to be making a quick escape to walk around the hallways or go outside on occasion, weather permitting.
One day during our regular Sunday walk, my son and I sat down on some benches outside the church to rest. After only a few seconds, my son popped up, held out his hand and said, “Mommy let’s dance.” I thought why not. So there we were hand in hand dancing our own version of the waltz; even doing a couple of twirls and dips. My son even bowed at the end of our dance and I curtsied.
Later that day as I thought about what had happened that morning; it dawned on me. Had it not been for my son’s inability to sit still for even a few minutes, or his unexpected verbal outbursts; we would have missed that wonderful moment together, that moment of pleasure, of delight, of JOY.
Since that day I made a decision to look differently at my son’s autism. I began to rearrange my way of thinking; starting with making a list of my son’s strong qualities. He is ambitious, independent, strong-willed, compassionate, and observant; just to name a few.
Next, I decided to keep what I refer to as Joy Journal, in which I record moments in my son’s life; moments of joy, moments that occur because of his Autism.
Yes there are still challenges we face. There are times of setbacks, stress, and even occasional negative thoughts. But now instead of dwelling on those; I pick up the Joy Journal and I read all the times my son and I found the JOY in Autism.
By Rebecca Rivera
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.