There have been times in my life when I didn’t know if I would see another day. Seriously. There were days when having an autistic child would nearly kill me. I never knew it could get better. There were times when I wanted to run away and never be a mother again.
I get it. Mothering an autistic child—a “wonder” as we call our sweet son—was horrible. I’m not here to sugarcoat it. Whether I was going through a bout of depression, whether it was simply the stage of our family life we were in, or whether it was a combination of the two possibilities, nothing felt easy and everything felt as though it were becoming progressively harder each and every day.
For years. Years.
Then 10 happened. 10 was a wonderful year. Our sweet boy suddenly started becoming funny—or funnier I guess I should say. Not just funny, but hilarious. He learned joke-telling and the art of having good timing.
At the same time he learned to stop freaking out about everything and we one day found ourselves on the other side of things. We no longer found a need to give him medication. We were having meaningful conversations with him and we were able to go for long bouts with him not needing special treatment or aides. It was amazing.
10 years. 10 long years and I had forgotten what it was like to have a child who didn’t need my every waking moment. Who could have fun and have a willy nilly schedule. Suddenly everything was okay. I was no longer on pins and needles waiting for an outburst or a flair up or a meltdown. It was okay if I forgot his juice. We could get through lunch if I used the wrong kind of jam.
Since Cal just turned 11 and an entire year of our new carefree life has gone by, I am starting to exhale. I’m no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop or for things to quickly fall apart like they always do. I’m enjoying my family and our life and our love again.
This has been a long time coming. I want to tell you all this message. This is a message of hope in the journey and a message of redemption from the mess of life.
To the Moms of Kids with Autism:
Please, hang in there. Did you hear me? To those of you who are out there, like me—hang in there. It will get better. I promise.
I write this because I wish I had known this. As a mother sitting on the floor of the bathroom sobbing, I saw no end in sight. I presumed this ebb and flow of bad days and horrible days was to be the making of all of my days.
No one told me that we would have stretches of weeks that we would go without problems. That our only care would become our children fighting and bickering like typical adolescent siblings. I never thought we would come to a day when he would care what his hair cut was much less want to help pick out his clothes based on the current trend and not on whether or not his pants could have an elastic waist.
No one understands quite like a parent of an autistic child just how nerve wracking the parenting game can be. Everything is up in the air all of the time. Everything is chaotic and yet somehow must be made orderly in an effort for the chaos to not overtake every day.
But those days have come. And oh, how blissful. I feel like we are prize-fighters. We have fought tooth and nail to get to where we are today. I endured days that included eight hour stretches of blood curdling screaming, so I can have a little boy who assembles kiwi crates and tells me the differences between Yoda and Obi Wan.
Cal fought tooth and nail to teach himself how to talk, to somehow get his brain to communicate with his mouth to speak the thoughts into words that he had formed in his mind. He endured this so he can tell funny jokes to his family over the dinner table. We still have our hard days, our difficult weeks, our weary moments, don’t get me wrong. But we have won.
We have gone back into our corners as champions. But there are some of you who are just coming into the ring to start your fight. Your battle. Your everyday. Please know this: yes, it will be hard. There will be days you will want to quit, to run away and not face this anymore. There will be days you are tired and battle weary. But you cannot quit. You cannot be done. And it will get better.
I have sat down to write this letter to you so many times. Moms, please know you are in this to win this. This is not a meaningless battle. The days are long but the years truly are short. And maybe it will be years from where you are, but things will get better. I am here for you. The other moms who have been through this are here for you.
Hang in there. It gets better.