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This Is Autism: My Experience Raising A Child With Autism

Autism, shmautism. I am raising an autistic child. There are some days when I’m so sick of autism. It sucks me dry, drains me of everything I have. Here’s my story.

My Son Is Autistic

I want to don my son’s Viking hat, grab the nerf sword, and pummel autism to the ground. My marriage fell apart, I now have chronic migraines, and my hair is starting to fall out. The constant barrage of slowing down when we need to rush, re-phrasing when I just want Reese to get it the first time, writing social stories when he’s done it all before, humming to match his hums just to connect, wiping the glob of toothpaste off the front of my shirt as I leap over the endless piles of laundry to get out the door to yet another therapy appointment.

This is what it’s like to raise an autistic child. My life is nothing like how I pictured it would be. If a fortune teller gave me a glimpse way back when, I would have said, “Heck no!” But … cliché as it may sound, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because I see the beauty in the way the windshield wipers move in rhythm across the windshield, I envision the creatures my son describes dancing across the train cars as they move across the tracks. I join him in his “stims” or self-stimulatory behavior as we sing and rock in the car on the way to school. I never would have known the distinctive joys that autism can bring.

Our small apartment is filled with exercise balls, chore lists, visual reminders, music, and lots and lots of laughter. We laugh at ourselves, each other, and our bizarreness. Autism is part of our lives, and I choose to search for the splendor in it. Yes, we have bad days and bad weeks—even bad years. But they only make the milestones that much more incredible.

The Joy Of Autism

My oldest son, Jacob, has been a huge part of these milestones. He is Reese’s first best friend. He’s also a teacher of social skills, prompter of speech, cheerleader on the sidelines, role model, and mentor. He has never complained about all the extra attention his younger brother has received. Jacob is brilliant, witty, hilarious, creative, humble, and a leader. Because of the journey, he has grown into an amazing young man with a compassion for others and a desire to be a force of change in the world.

I have always stressed that Jacob is not responsible for Reese. Yet I know that Jacob’s love for his brother is unwavering and he will, and has, stepped in to protect him when it was needed most.

While I often feel I am not doing enough for my boys, I do know that I have tried my best. And I will never give up. Autism does not go away, but it can be shaped, guided, and nurtured into a unique “quality” to contribute to the world. We have met the most amazing therapists, doctors, teachers, advocates, parents, and friends along the way—and because of this, Reese is progressing beautifully.

Through my openness from the beginning about raising an autistic child, my now teenage son embraces his uniqueness and is proud of who he is. Reese has a plan to go to college, obtain his Ph.D., and live independently. And you can be sure I will be cheering wildly, in my mom-embarrassing way, on the sidelines, with every step.

Kerri Conder, single mother of two teenage boys, lives in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, and is an autism consultant and family support advocate.

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