As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I've been reading my friends' Facebook entries of all the things they are thankful for. And I've been reflecting upon the ways that I differ in the things that I am grateful for as the parent of a child with autism.
Not too long ago I received an email from a woman in response to one of my blogs. She took me to task for what she perceived as my whining and complaining about how hard it was to be a special needs parent and she shared how sick and tired she is of hearing about how hard our lives are. And she has a point. Parents of special needs children do experience challenges not typical of our peers with neurotypical children. But at the same time, we experience so much joy that is unique to our situation. And now maybe it's time to finally share those.
So here are my special thanks as a special needs mom.
1. I am thankful for friends, both mine and my sons.
There are some truly amazing people in the world, those who patiently overlook meltowns (both mine and my sons), who listen to monologues about bigfoot, who ignore quirks and invite us to play dates, who hang out at the lunch table and on the playground with my son pretending to be superheroes instead of hanging with their more "normal" friends, who spend a day playing Disney Infinity instead of playing baseball and who stick up for us when others don't understand. The value of this village of ours is without measure.
2. I am thankful for an employer who embraces me and my child.
As a single parent, I have to work. I am the only income for my family. And the cost of raising a child with autism is staggering. In 2014, Time Magazine reported that this cost exceeds 1.4 million dollars. Ukeru Systems helps me to be the parent that my child needs me to be by providing work/life balance, care and understanding, and the opportunity to do meaningful work. Every day I get to share with other organizations how they can become trauma-informed and restraint-free. It is hard to explain the gratitude that comes from having a supportive employer. This gift is one that can only be repaid with the kind of fierce loyalty I feel for this company that enables me to parent while doing work that matters.
3. I am thankful for insurance that covers autism therapies.
When my son was first diagnosed, I read my insurance policy and was devastated to learn that all therapies, including speech and OT, were specifically excluded if the individual had an autism diagnosis. It wasn't that long ago that I was my son's therapist because there were no other options. In the past 10 years, advocates and state governments have pulled together in a mighty way to provide those much needed therapies for children with autism. The outcomes for our children will be greatly improved because of this.
4. I am thankful for the many milestones that my son has met.
Yes, they have been delayed. Yes, there are many still to meet. But for special needs moms, the celebrating we do when our child says a word, or plays a game with us for the first time, or makes a friend, or eats a new food or gets toilet trained or expresses empathy is joyous and wonderful! Sometimes I think that, while special needs parents experience grief and loss in ways often more profound than others, we also get to experience victories and joy that are beyond description and that other parents don't get to experience in quite the same way.
5. I am thankful for the privilege of being my child's mother.
I am thankful for this most of all. I've heard people say that I must be a special person for God to have chosen me to raise such a special child. I would strongly disagree with that statement. I think instead that my son was sent to me to save me, to pull me out of a self-absorbed lifestyle and to give me a purpose so much greater than anything I ever did before he was gifted to me. He is amazing and unique and being his mother has made me see life in a different way, has helped me learn patience with him and with the intolerance of others, has helped me appreciate the little things and celebrate the big things. Being His mom has motivated me to reach out and help others understand autism so that his future and the future of others is one that can continue to be celebrated.
For these gifts...these precious gifts of my child and our village, of the joys and the pain, of the responsibilities and challenges, of the lessons taught and the lessons learned...for these and so much more, I am truly thankful.