by Alyssa Corley
Sometimes parenting doesn’t go the way we expect. One doctor’s appointment, one phone call, one diagnosis can shatter our plans or dreams. April is Autism Awareness month. This is one mother’s story.
There have been times on this journey when I have felt lost. When our psychiatrist looked at my husband and me and compassionately broke the news that our five-year-old son has Asperger’s Syndrome, the earth shook; my heart stood still; I couldn’t breathe.
It felt like all of our dreams had been wadded up and thrown away. It was a heavy blow. Five years prior, when I was a glowing, expectant mama, I never could have imagined this would be my future. This just couldn’t be true.
The first signs weren’t obvious to us. Our little Brady just seemed a tad stubborn – what toddler isn’t? He didn’t smile very often, but that was just because of his serious disposition. When he was a little over two years old, our little boy could identify every make and model of every car made. He had memorized every store name and could tell you where you had been shopping by looking at your grocery bag. He knew where your clothes were made by reading their tag. He was amazing!
People told us that he was a genius. Some people said he was “head strong.” Others said he probably had OCD. By age four, Brady was really struggling socially. He was impulsive and had high anxiety. We finally came to terms that this was beyond us, and we sought help. The diagnosis was heartbreaking, but the clarity of naming it was relieving.
I have learned that proper diagnosis is absolutely key. We went so long listening to others, defending our child, playing guessing games. I couldn’t really start helping my child until I knew for certain what I was dealing with. I needed the help of professionals who have experience diagnosing and helping children with autism.
Secondly, I learned that grief is not wrong; it is natural. I felt so guilty for feeling sad about Brady having Asperger’s. I felt (and sometimes still do feel) that I need to be stronger. When I give in to these feelings of guilt and shame and do not allow myself to grieve the “normal” I had hoped and planned for my family, it is destructive, and it doesn’t help Brady. Recognizing my emotions is vital for my own emotional health, for my family’s spirit, and for my child’s growth. I have learned that tears are fine.
And lastly, acceptance. Coming to terms with what my life holds for me gives me purpose. Embracing my life as a mother to an Aspy kid is beautiful, just as he is beautiful. Finding support through the Internet, good reading materials, the Special Ed department at school, and making myself “aware” has improved my life. After accepting Brady’s diagnosis, we could move forward.
I still sometimes find myself in that dark tunnel of grief or denial, thinking about the dreams I had for my child and family. But then, unexpectedly, light comes pouring through. Brady is my light, Asperger’s and all! All children are a gift. I am learning to embrace the uniqueness of each.