Autism Series Part 1: My Child Has Autism

mom and son

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? And how many times have I heard this saying over the years? The sad thing about this saying is that it is true…or is that a happy thing? As working moms, we know that at the moment we give birth our lives are about to immensely change, and we know that whatever comes our way we were built to survive it, right? We know we can do anything that is put on our large plate, and we can do it with class and dignity.

The percentage of working mothers who admit that they frequently feel stressed is a whopping 86%.

So, imagine what it is like being a working mother with not only work-related stress, but the stress of having a child with special needs! Having a child that requires much, much more mindful attention and energy just ups the ante on the challenges of being as successful and productive as possible in your career.

I knew that my son was delayed in his speech progression, and I knew that some of his behaviors were representative of autism.

Well, let’s put it this way: deep, deep inside my conscience I knew, but I was not able to admit it. My husband was certainly able to admit it, but I wasn’t. My family and his family were able to acknowledge without hesitation that something was amiss with his behaviors but I quickly would push their opinions aside and almost ignore any advice they would give. He was almost three, attended speech therapy after I got off of work two days a week, and I felt that I was doing what I needed to do at that time. But with working full-time as a school teacher, raising a six year old in addition to my younger child, and having other responsibilities in the home pretty much kept me occupied. It was just easier to push any comments from family and worries about my son’s development to the back of my mind.
Eventually, I came around after being coerced into taking my son to a medical center several hours away. Taking off work, we drove him there to be evaluated for a full day. Meeting the doctor and therapists throughout the day, answering questions, watching them interact with my three year old prepared me for the worst-ever fear a mom could face: a positive diagnosis of a disorder.

His diagnosis was autism.

The long drive home was something I would love to forget, but am unable to do so. It was the worst day of my life as I spent the whole time in the car crying, praying, and trying to calm down so I could think of what to do next. Looking back on that time, I have no idea how I survived, and I certainly have no clue how I was able to do all of this and still get up and go to work the next day and be the happy teacher that I was signed up to be. You see, working full time as an educator and dealing with a shock to my emotions certainly was not easy. It was actually horrific. How would I be able to give my children at school the positive attention they needed, the happy, creative, positive teacher they needed and deserved when I was literally crumbling inside? I mean, it was my obligation to do this. But on the other hand, it was my internal mothering response to do nothing but think about and worry about my son every minute of every day. My mind was precisely and indisputable in two places at once while I was at work throughout the months that followed his diagnosis. I have no idea how I survived without having a breakdown. But I did it.

As a mother and a teacher, I had dynamic strength and I was able to do what was best for my son and me: educate myself.

Two days a week, when my job ended for the day, I decided that when he was in his speech therapy session that I would devote that time educating myself about early autism diagnoses and what I needed to do next. And when I was at work each day, I told myself (sometimes out loud) that I would set aside my worry and fears for those two afternoons while he was in therapy. It was then that I learned how powerful the mind was. Designating a time for worry and planning for our future worked, and I was able to prosperously resume my job.

Here’s the thing: life hands us situations that we don’t sign up for. We, as working mothers must find a way to roll with the punches and deal with them. It is almost like going into survival mode, as we are warriors every day. Moving forward, adjusting to the waves of change, and keeping ourselves grounded is exactly what we must do, and I feel that we, as working mom’s do it vigorously and gracefully at the same time!