4 years ago today, the words that rocked my world were told to me. "Your son is autistic."
I can still feel the pain of that day as if it were yesterday. It's a feeling that never goes away. Like many parents, all of my dreams for DJ flash forwarded and evaporated. I was left with only a darkness.
I didn't answer the phone calls from family and I didn't mention it at work. I didn't know what it meant to now be a special needs family. It was just too much to take in all at once. Who would understand and how would we survive this? He was just a little baby boy and now he would be different.
DJ after his diagnosis, at 2 years old
I've learned so much about myself and my kids since the diagnosis. Who would ever think that children would be the greatest teachers for special needs families. This special needs boy and girl created such a strength in a family that had been swallowed up by hopelessness.
We tend to think of our children as the ones that need our help. We are their earliest teacher, we take care of them, we provide for them.
But I drew from DJ's perseverance and his light. I could not find those things in me and I otherwise would not have been able to find them on my own had it not been for DJ. He helped me deal with autism. He helped me heal my broken heart.
Learning from DJ, we dealt with the blow of Chloe's diagnosis two years later with much less emotional chaos. All of the dreams that were swallowed up were MY dreams not his, not hers. I don't know who they'll want to be so I had to stop mourning those dreams and move on.
I, as a mother, still struggle with autism. There are good days and bad days. Having two children with autism is not easy at all. And I struggle with making sure that Adriana is not left in the wind when my energy and focus is on how to help her special needs siblings.
Balancing all the kids and a marriage can be wearing. You have to decide which is more important: a date night or a night of stimulating your child's growth.
Our other relationships with family and friends? Some are understanding, others not so much. People get tired of hearing about autism and they take a step back. They don't return phone calls, they don't come to your kids' birthday parties, they stop caring. Responses turn from "yes" to "I'll see." Then nothing. That's the part that, for me, hurts the most. And I still get angry about and it's something I'll always mention.
Danny and I don't have the luxury of taking a step back from autism.
DJ, who turns 6 next month, is still nonverbal. He has been able to speak through his pictures, his gestures and his dazzling smile. It's no surprise the amount of people that fall in love with him on sight.
And Chloe, well, we all know about that little diva. Autism has not stopped her in the least. She draws from her challenges and makes up her own rules. She is a force. It's almost scary to think of her capabilities because it'll be nothing but greatness.
Chloe after her diagnosis, 2 years old.
Orchard Beach Autism Speaks Walk 2014