Being a mother is a huge blessing, and my children have always been the center of my world; I’m so very proud of all three of them! However, being an autism mom has made me a better mother and person because of what it has taught me, and because of the things I’ve learned as I study and experience life with autism.
When I was growing up, there was a girl who lived down my street who was intellectually disabled- her name was Connie. Back in the 80’s, we called people like her “retarded”; that’s a word I cannot stand today and don’t allow in my house. Even though my parents raised us to always treat others how we’d want to be treated, my sister and I were really mean to Connie. She annoyed us, and when she came down the street to try to play with us, we did everything we could to make her go away and leave us alone. Some of the things we did were awful; we’d throw rocks at her to scare her away from our yard, and we even tricked her into eating “stew” we made out of mud, grass, and rocks. I can assure you that if our parents had known what we had been doing, we would have gotten our asses whipped for sure. Once, I threw a rock at Connie while she rode her bike in circles in front of our house, trying to get us to let her come play. I accidentally hit her in the eye and broke her glasses. Connie’s older sister came down to our house and tried to beat me up… My brother stopped her, but I look back now and think “He probably should have let her- I sure deserved it!” I remember Connie’s parents coming down to talk to my dad, and my dad being so angry at us for how we’d treated her. I got a spanking, and Dad grounded me for a while over it, and Connie was no longer allowed to come down to try to play with us.
As I grew up and grew out of that bratty, mean kid I used to be, I have felt deep regret and sadness for what I did to Connie. I realize now she just wanted to have friends and someone to play with, and I wish I’d treated her with kindness. My sister and I have talked about Connie many times over the years, and how we wish we could go back and be nice to her. I remember talking to my mom about it all once when I was in high school, and she told me I should pray for forgiveness. I did, and felt immense relief and a weight lifted. I’ve often thought I should write a letter of forgiveness to Connie and her family, too, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received.
But God works in mysterious ways, friends. Now I am the parent of a special needs child. I remember when I first started seeing signs of a delay in Sawyer. I thought back to the way we’d treated Connie, and my heart sank all over again. I wondered if God was using my son to teach me a lesson, and I knew that if He was, it was because I deserved it. After Sawyer’s autism diagnosis, I thought a lot about Connie and how kids like me had treated her. I was so sad and terrified for my son; no parent ever wants to think about their child going through life being bullied and mistreated like we treated Connie. I realized quickly that God was teaching me a lot of lessons. I learned a lot about empathy, inclusion, trusting my intuition, patience, understanding, and most importantly, love. I am a much better mom and person today than I was before Sawyer was born.
Before Sawyer was born, I relied on my children’s speech to be able to understand them and their needs. I took milestones for granted, and often lost patience with them when I didn’t think they were doing things as fast or as well as they should. However, since Sawyer’s diagnosis I truly understand that kids develop in different ways and at different speeds, and I fully appreciate every single milestone no matter how big or small. I also don’t take speech for granted, and pay closer attention to my children; I have learned to read their body language and facial expressions better than ever before so I can be more in tune with their needs and wants. I have much more patience with my children now, and even though I didn’t think it was possible, my capacity for love is even greater.
Being Sawyer’s sisters has taught my girls a lot, too. They’ve grown up to be extremely kind-hearted, open-minded, and accepting young women who are fiercely protective and loyal to those with special needs. Otherwise fairly non-confrontational, nothing brings out their protective instinct like someone making fun of someone with a disability, and their fierce love and loyalty to their brother and others like him warms my heart so much. I also know that when something happens to me and I’m no longer on this earth, Sawyer will be loved and taken care of so well, and that is a comfort I can’t describe.
When people hear that Sawyer is autistic, a lot of times I hear “Oh, I’m so sorry!” My answer is “Why? Don’t be!” and I explain to them how much of a blessing he has been, and how being his momma has changed not just me, but our family, for the better. I know that unless someone is a special needs parent, they can’t totally understand, and that’s ok. I just want to make it clear to them that autism has not been a curse on our family, and it’s not a death sentence. I am a better person today because of my experience as an autism mom, and as a family we all love deeper and share a connection many can never understand.