We first met over 24 years ago. I knew very little about autism and it knew very little about me. Over the years we have learned to co-exist; sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. Autism has taught me many things over the years and those first lessons were some of the hardest. It has been a relentless teacher, but the knowledge and education I’ve gained has been invaluable moving forward. I’d like to think autism has learned a few things from me as well and I believe there will be more to come. Both of us are competitive and neither one looks to give in or give up. Everyday is a learning curve, to say the least.
My unfamiliarity with autism as a young mother meant that the lessons I learned were long and hard. But as any parent will tell you, determination and love are a powerful combination, one that can learn to navigate any classroom—including the many facets of autism. There were so many paths, choices, and decisions to be made, but I knew with all my heart that it was my purpose and privilege to help my son every step of the way. Jonathan needed my help and advocacy and I would not let anything stand in my way.
Eventually, I would learn to temper my ambition with knowledge and patience. My experiences over the years have most importantly taught me to prepare and be proactive. To recognize those times when I needed reinforcements or back up and when to yield the right of way.
Navigating and mastering the world of autism can be overwhelming, and advocating is not for the faint of heart. With so many twists and turns, highs and lows, it can be grueling, frustrating and fraught with disappointment. Even with all the lessons we’ve learned, there are certainly times when you feel your efforts are in vain. But then, a new chapter reveals itself and you feel that glimmer of hope, an unexpected success or a moment that fills your heart with optimism. It is in that instant that you know you’ll continue to do whatever it takes for the rest of your life.
Perhaps there is no greater teacher than the beautiful face we see everyday: our loved ones who persevere when the odds say otherwise. The face of unconditional love. They need us to love them, guide them, be their voice when needed, and be their champion. To educate others and support them in a world that often misses the lessons they can teach others. Acceptance, compassion, kindness, empathy and courage. Regardless of the challenges our children face at any age, our strength, resilience and efforts will pave the way. We are the teacher and the student: for us, class is always in session.
I’ve faced many challenges on my journey to understanding autism over the years, and I know there will be more. For now I wait for autism’s next move and stand ready for another lesson.