This time of the year is filled with preparations for the holiday season. Christmas trees are up and decorated, lights are aglow throughout the neighborhood, and the search for gifts is in full swing. The act of giving gifts is a long-standing tradition, with all shapes and sizes of parcels colorfully wrapped and placed under the tree. A present is obvious from the outside, but the inside remains a mystery until unwrapped. But what about the gifts we cannot see, yet touch our lives in multiple ways? Sometimes, the greatest gift isn’t one we unwrap.
In spite of the numerous challenges and struggles raising a child with autism presents, it has also shown me the gifts. Gifts that at times have gone unrecognized by myself, others, and even Jonathan. Gifts that I was told he would never possess. Those who thought they knew more about Jonathan and autism, not realizing the act of giving and receiving exists on the journey. The diagnosis of autism isn’t accompanied in a beautifully wrapped package. One would assume there is no gift to receive. However, it was autism that proved Jonathan was full of special gifts, and even placed a few at my feet as well.
To be fair, there have been times where I would have gladly returned the gift of autism if I could have. Times where autism resembled Christmas after everyone has feverishly ripped open their gifts, leaving a wake of wrapping paper, bows, boxes, gift bags and tissue littered all over the room. It looks overwhelming and not worth the effort, until you realize there are bows, gift bags and tissue paper to salvage. What appears to be a huge pile of trash in reality offers a chance for another gift, another time. We pick up the pieces and move on.
Autism does not appear to be a big giver because so much of the focus tends to be on what has been taken. But over these many years, I’ve recognized as much as I’ve given to autism, it has given to me as well, in ways I never anticipated and from places I never expected. Opening my eyes to abilities I never knew I possessed that have led to endeavors I would have not pursued without the gifts autism showed me. Autism has gifted me with more patience, persistence, unconditional love and determination than I ever thought possible. To recognize that not everything can be defined by timetables, milestones, or age brackets.The gift of viewing the world through a different pair of eyes, hearing without words, and a new way of understanding. Autism has made me a better mother to all three of my children, loving and recognizing each as unique individuals with abilities and achievements all their own. Gifts that keep on giving.
Perhaps two of the greatest gifts autism has given me are the ability to communicate with or without words and responding to behaviors. Jonathan’s limited verbal skills taught me other ways to communicate, both in giving and receiving. While not always the perfect gift at times, I’ve become more adept at communicating in a different way, responding not just with words, but my heart and soul as well. 25 years of supporting and understanding behaviors has taught me that it’s not just what you see, but also what you feel. You must go so much deeper, to observe, reflect and respond. Never assume that all is what you see. Autism unwrapped instincts in me I never knew existed and an ability to counter in some pretty unorthodox ways. Wrapping up my focus more on the need of what a behavior is trying to communicate, instead of responding to the superficial packaging.
While the allure of a gift is not knowing what’s inside, once opened, it reveals itself. Autism is like that in its own way. Each of us is on our own path. Like a gift, they may appear to be a similar shape or wrapped in familiar paper, but once opened, the inside tells a different story. Sometimes it’s the thought that counts, and sometimes our own thoughts determine a gift’s value.
Gifts like purpose and potential, faith and fortitude, acceptance and hope, grace and giving. While these cannot be wrapped up and tucked neatly under the tree, in the presence of autism, we unwrap them each and every day.