Most days you can find me somewhere in the middle of hope at the intersection of not knowing what I’m doing nor where I’m going. This is the life I’ve grown accustomed to—the autism life.

Covid-19 isn’t my first “new normal.” Receiving an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for my son three years ago was.

In an instant, our priorities and responsibilities changed, and our entire world as we knew it was rocked by autism. My son Stalen was diagnosed on the spectrum at twenty-one months. He is considered non-verbal. Today, he is a handsome, loving, and all-around amazing five-year-old. I can’t begin to try to put into words the love I have for him.

He is my world. 

So, here I am three years into this journey with him and I still struggle.

Some days, things fall into place and I breathe easy as if someone handed me a GPS, I have a full tank of gas and I know exactly where I’m heading and how to get there. I’m confident and I can even push my luck and turn on cruise control. But then, out of nowhere, a freaking detour. No idea where I’m going, I’ve never been down this road before.

I’m feeling anxious and uncertain, the gas light is on and I’m certain I’m completely lost. I’m a total mess! 

But there it is, that familiar voice of hope in my head, giving me direction, a chance to catch my breath, guiding me and propelling me forward with the promise of better days and the desire to be braver as I try again. 

You know that voice…..

The one you hear every time you’re lost.  

The one you hear at three a.m. when you’re beyond exhausted and your child is awake, ready for the day and demanding chocolate milk and chicken nuggets. 

The voice that attempts to calm your anxiety on your way to another appointment, or after a bad day.  

The voice that tells you that it won’t always be like this. 

The voice that tells you that tomorrow will be better. 

The voice that tells you that you can do hard things. 

The voice that tells you to wipe your tears and try again. 

The voice that encourages you to go all-in when you’re all out. 

And just when you think that voice is gone, when you think “I’m done”, “I can’t do this” it creeps up in photos of better times in your Facebook memories or in the comforting, encouraging words of friends on similar journeys. 

It’s hidden in the comforting smile of a stranger when your child is in a full-blown public meltdown. 

It dwells deep within your tribe of supporters and encouragers. It is tightly wrapped around the words, “I get it” and “I understand” or “how can I help?”

Hope always finds a way. 

It’s in the actions of neighbors who turn their Christmas lights on in July because your child loves them or it shines brightly in the form of “happy packages” left on your front step to cheer up your son. 

It’s the voice of your child saying “Mama” for the first time or even when he says “bum.” 

It’s even hidden amongst the smiles and gasps when you present him with new shoes. 

Yes, the bad times are really bad.

But, the hope that sneaks through during those times when you are forced out of desperation to look for it, is so much better.

Hope is the air we breathe during survival mode. 

It is the diamond in the rough. 

Autism has taught me to find, search, appreciate, fight for, and to hold on to hope like no other experience or situation in my life. 

The progress, the memories, the firsts, the moments that you never thought would happen but they did, the sleepless nights you lived to tell about, the kindness, love, and acceptance of family, friends, and strangers. 

Just like we need to find the joy, we also need to harness the hope. 

So, now when I find myself at that freaking detour sign, I have no idea where I am or what I’m doing…I do know I will find my way back somewhere in the middle of hope.

I always do. 

This post originally appeared on Finding Cooper's Voice.