This post written by Eric Williams was originally posted to YourTango.
Autism is more than a diagnosis.
In honour of National Autism Awareness Month, not only do I want to shed light on autism and how it affects children and families, but I want to acknowledge the many beautiful life lessons I've learned as a parent of children with autism.
My wife and I have identical twin boys who just celebrated their 10th birthday. They began their autism journey born eight weeks premature with a week in the neonatal intensive care unit. In addition to the diagnosis of autism, our kids have a medical history of asthma, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, and pica. This is our experience; however, not all families of autism have the same narrative.
Autism has had moments when it was overwhelming and took an emotional toll on the family. Marriage has been difficult at times. We've had times where we didn't know what to do to manage the behaviours. Professional supports have not always been available or of good quality. And we've depleted savings' accounts to manage the high costs of medical treatments. Again, this is not the same narrative for all families of autism.
Over the past decade, I've been able to observe our family as a whole and note how our autism interacts with the rest of the world. Although our story of autism had a bit of a rough start, our story is far from a sad story.
Raising children with autism taught us life lessons along the way that have shaped the way we view autism, parent autism, and engage our autism with the rest of the world.
Here are 8 lessons we've learned as parents of children with autism:
1. Autism requires unconditional love.
"Love is not 'if' or 'because'. Love is 'anyway' and 'even though' and 'in spite of'." — Author Unknown
Parenting autism comes with an abundance of opportunities to love during the fun times, meltdowns, sick days, and "code browns" (just think poop in all the places but the toilet). I have been blessed with countless opportunities to love without limitations or conditions and receive love from my sons in a way unique to them.
2. Autism is inspiring.
"Life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it." — Dennis Kimbro.
It was autism that encouraged me to pursue a doctoral degree, improve my physical health, get more involved in the autism community, strengthen my faith, and pursue blogging as a hobby. Both my wife and I serve on a board of directors for an autism nonprofit. Autism, in many ways, has been a gift to my family, my community, and people across the world.
3. Autism is challenging.
"Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations." — Author Unknown
Autism isn't challenging just for the sake of making life difficult. Autism is challenging because it grooms us to be beautiful people for our loved ones, community, and the world around us. We've learned to embrace the challenges and look ahead to the destination awaiting the boys and us.
4. Autism is hopeful.
"Everyday bring a new beginning and a new ending." — Author Unknown.
It's common to hear that if you see one child with autism, then you see one child with autism. That, too, has been applied to each day we live with autism. For every day we live with autism, we live only that day with autism. Remaining hopeful that the next day will be better has been helpful and has proven to be true.
5. Autism is relationship building.
"The irony of a parent and child relationship is that at any given moment, you never know who is teaching whom." — Linda Poindexter
Autism isn't a one-way relationship where my wife and I or professionals are teaching the boys to live in our world. In many situations, they are teaching us to live in their world. Collectively, we construct our own world and march to our own drum.
6. Autism is beautiful.
"Beauty isn't about having a pretty face. It is about having a pretty mind, a pretty heart, and most importantly, a beautiful soul." — Author Unknown
There's nothing more beautiful than watching my twins defy their diagnoses and engageing in a social interaction, communicating a word or request, and independently feeding, bathing, and dressing themselves. Although their minds work differently, their beauty shines through with every small success they achieve navigating our society.
7. Autism involves self-sacrifice.
"You don't have love without sacrifice; you can't have sacrifice without love." — Karen Kingsbury
Finances, friendships, career, and restful nights are past sacrifices in our world of autism. Sacrificing is not a bad word that means we are giving up our lives for our children. It simply means we love our kids enough to prioritize their special needs above our personal preferences in the name of love.
8. Autism exemplifies teamwork.
"Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve uncommon results." — Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha
We initially felt alone upon the initial diagnosis. As time progressed, we've developed a team of professionals, neighbours, friends, and family members that have joined the Williams Team. Although some people are seasonal helpers, the team works because common people step up to help our kids overcome the inherent challenges of the diagnosis.
Autism serves as a reminder of just how much some people's differences require they fight to be accepted, seen, and respected as a person. It's a diagnosis that sets us apart from others and mandates advocacy to be accepted as equals.
Autism has shown me just how beautiful my wife and kids are even during the daily challenges. Together, we've seen the beautiful souls of others that provide services to our children daily. We no longer experience life as being limited by or fighting against autism. Nor do we question why this happened to us. We now experience life as living with autism and serving the autism community.
Dr. Eric A. Williams and his wife have been married for 12 years and have been coparenting identical, 10-year-old twin boys diagnosed with autism and an 18-month-old daughter. Additionally, they have been serving organisations in the autism community that support other families of autism. They are strong supporters of the Mariposa School For Children With Autism in Cary, NC. Click here if you'd like to learn more about the school or if you'd like to make a donation to the school's cause of serving children and families affected by autism.
More from YourTango:
- 6 Ways Having a Son With Autism Made My Life Beter
- 13 Tough Truths Only Parents of Kids With Autism Will Understand
- What It's Really Like to Raise a Child With Autism