Becoming Aware of Autism

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April is autism awareness month, and as I reflect on my family’s experiences with autism, I’m amazed at the far-reaching effect it has on my ability to empathize with other mothers. As mom-guilt and mom-shaming sweep the country, we desperately need a revival of empathy and support for mothers everywhere.

I first became aware of autism when doctors diagnosed my young cousin. But two years ago it became an even more personal journey when my own son was diagnosed with it, too. The lessons I’ve learned while meeting his needs have blossomed my heart for mothers struggling with parenting in any situation.

My son cried constantly in public places for the first 18 months of his life. Life got very hard, very fast for this outgoing, extroverted mom. When we had to take him out, it was always utter chaos. And I could count on one hand the number of times anyone offered to help.

Later he threw a fit every time we dropped him off at the church nursery or daycare well beyond a socially acceptable age – because for him the change of scenery and unfamiliar noises was upsetting. It wasn’t because he was undisciplined. He truly couldn’t cope with change, even something as small as having someone over for dinner set him off.

Learning to confidently mother him and discard all judgment from others so I could parent him the way he needed gave me an awareness of how much mothers can struggle. And that consciousness made me an advocate for mothers everywhere. Parenting is hard, and it's even harder when you think you’re alone.

If it weren’t for my own experience parenting a special needs kid, I would certainly be one of those women condemning a woman for simply parenting differently. But Christ set at least one example of how not to publicly scorn someone.

Jesus was able to see the best in people even when they were at their worst. He approached people with loving patience and sometimes even precious silence. When the law allowed Him to judge an adulterous woman, He refused to do so. Not because she wasn’t wrong, but because there was no benefit to stoning her for her accusers’ self-righteous cause. They, too, were sinners and wanted to stone her for their own satisfaction. But Christ saw through their pride and greed. He would rather a sinner go free to sin no more than to suffer a public mauling.

We think our opinion matters, when really only our loving kindness can change lives.

I encourage women everywhere to stand with women, even those we don’t understand or we think might be doing it wrong.

This positive attitude can be applied to all kinds of situations: stop and think before we speak or type.

How often would a mother be best served by someone asking, “How can I help?” instead of staring at her and leaving her to deal with a parenting crisis? How much more loved would she feel if she got a thumbs-up or an encouraging smile from another woman while she parented a toddler through a fit?

My sweet boy blessed me with a new consciousness I hope will bless other moms. Thankfully, we don’t need an autistic child to make us aware of the need for a kindness revival.

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