30 Days with Autism, Day 30

April 30th: Autism has taught me how to be a better mom.

There’s a book “I was a really good mom before I had kids”. I’ve never read it, but the title speaks volumes. Before I was “mommy”, there were things I swore to myself I’d never do, and things I’d never really thought about.

“I would never put a leash on my child.”
“Donuts and pop-tarts are a legitimate breakfast.”
“Why can’t they just shut up that screaming kid already? The rest of us are trying to shop/eat/listen in peace.”

Well, I’ve done it. For the sake of my child’s safety, I put a “leash” on her when we walk through the airport. I use the wrist strap and hook it to the stroller to keep her from wandering off. She’s a wanderer. Not a runner, but she tends to get tunnel vision and that can lead to her being left behind in busy places. Sometimes an object or person will catch her eye and she has to approach it, has to touch it, hold it, talk to it, or manipulate it. She doesn’t understand the dangers of the world around her. She doesn’t know how to determine whether a situation could hurt her (or scare me). She needs me to help her navigate the world. Without that help, the self-control she fights so hard to maintain could be lost and we love her too much to let her lose.

Pop-tarts and donuts. Yes, they are tasty. She loves them. They look so good, and it would be easier to just give them a pop-tart and call it a day. Those are our worst days. The sugar builds up in her body and becomes its own form or over-stimulation. My mother-in-law has played witness to events like this. The ceaseless “bouncing” that follows is unimaginable to watch. This “sugar buzz” is hard to avoid once it’s happened, and can lead to some of the most extreme behavior issues. And through these changes to “normal” behavior my child becomes the one screaming in the store/restaurant/library. I have carried her out of buildings screaming and kicking. I have let her lay quietly on the floor in the middle of the Best Buy. I have given huge hugs in JC Penny, with everyone staring at her because she’s beeping and flailing loudly. I am the mom with the screaming child in the middle of the store. Every trip out of the house reminds me of that dream, the one where you are standing in front of your class at school, naked, and without your homework. I’m a better mother because of autism. I’ve pushed through and found the strength to do things I never would have otherwise. I’m more understanding and patient than I’ve ever been before. I’m a better person simply for knowing my daughter. She’s the greatest gift, in all her strengths and challenges, which God has given me.

So there you have it. The successes. The failures. The stories found in the month of April. Autism has given us a lot of challenges. It has impacted our lives in ways we never imagined. The blessings we see in each experience and in each accomplished milestone are amazing. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my daughter. The way she experiences life, in its glory and hardship, has fully shaped who she is. I fell in love with her exactly as she is. Autism shapes the way she experiences life, but it is not the sum of who she is. She is so much more than the disorder, so much bigger than any diagnosis. She’s my baby girl, and she wouldn’t be the same without the Autism.

So keep smelling every flower you pass, keep “bunny hopping” through the mall, I’ll be right there beside you. I love you, K.

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