Just Fine Indeed {Autism Awareness}

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Daniel is six now.  He is happy, healthy, handsome, smiley, loves to swim, is an amazing big brother, and….he happens to have autism.

Daniel came into the world with a good, loud cry and weighed in at a hefty 8lbs 15oz!  It was a seemingly perfect pregnancy. No morning sickness, lots of energy, a babymoon to Cancun, and an induction at 39 weeks because he seemed like he was a big baby!  Labor and delivery was almost perfect too.  Just about five hours long and 20 minutes of pushing, and our Daniel was born, happy and healthy.

Autism - Daniel (2)

Fast forward 2 ½ years later and we are sitting in a cold, gray, sterile looking office. Little did we know that our whole world was about to change as that very intelligent-looking doctor said, “Daniel has PDD-NOS.”

PDD what? Huh?

And that y’all is how autism came into our lives.

Daniel met all of his milestones in a timely manner. He babbled, giggled, liked to be held and cuddled.  At 2, he still wasn’t talking much…or anything really. Not even mama. He had developed normally, and at one point it seems like his development slowed down and then the language never came.  Surely, it was because we are a dual language home. Either way, we contacted our school district’s Early Childhood Intervention {ECI} program to get him some help. It wasn’t until my brother had the courage to speak up and really say, “Hey . . . what do you think of Daniel’s development?” that things started to steamroll. We were already working with ECI and his specialist had started to notice some “sensory” issues at pre-school.  Both realizations came within a day or two of each other. Two months later, we found ourselves in that dull, cold, child psychologist’s office when she uttered those words.

For a very, very long time, I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word autism.  You see, autism is something that you hear about elsewhere…other kids have it, not mine.  But he does have it.  When you receive the news, it is as if your world goes numb. You even have to grieve for a minute or two . . . or three . . . or a lot, because that vision of motherhood that you had is gone.  All of those hopes and dreams you had for your child were just slashed and replaced with fears, insecurities, guilt and this new world of therapy, therapy, and more therapy.  Heck, I even had to go to therapy myself in order to come to terms with his diagnosis.

You have to grieve. You’ve got to cry, yell, be mad, whatever…and then you have to get to work!

Daniel is very functional, and I guess you could say, on the mild end of the spectrum.  Most people don’t realize he’s on it unless they are well-versed in autism. We have done every therapy imaginable from speech therapy to occupational therapy to play therapy.  When he was 4, we started to see an upswing in some pretty serious tantrums and usually they erupted without warning. This is when we knew we needed to bring in the big guns and start ABA therapy.  Applied Behavioral Analysis is an individualized and intense therapy for autism.  It has been shown to have great results in helping kids on the spectrum, and it was exactly what he needed.  We made the very hard decision to pursue ABA therapy full time for him, and I do credit it for how well he is doing today.

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We still have so many things to work on.  Like many kids on the spectrum, Daniel’s biggest challenges are speech and social interaction.  He stims {autism’s fancy word for strange behaviors that provide a calming feel to the body} on occasion, if he is stressed mostly.  When he was younger, he would flap his hands, but we would redirect him by telling him “quiet hands” or “clap.”  Now that he is six, he is able to somewhat “catch” himself doing these things and redirect to something more appropriate. He now talks a lot, but still struggles with the flow of conversation.  He loves to be around his peers, but still struggles in large groups of kids too . . . so he might play around the other kids or might watch a game of tag rather than join in. Then there are those really quirky things like walking through sliding glass doors, you know, the ones at HEB, Target, or every other place in town. Sometimes he struggles to go in if they are not perfectly closed before he walks through them.  Or the Happy Birthday song…who doesn’t like the Happy Birthday song? Well, Daniel doesn’t like it. It creates tons of anxiety for him. My husband and I brace ourselves at a birthday party and usually have a plan in place for when the time comes.  Daniel loves going to birthday parties but just struggles with that song that is inevitable at Every. Single. Party.  He’s come a long way from screaming and crying to now being able to better handle the “moment,” even though it is still very hard for him.

As a parent, you don’t want your kid to struggle, ever.  And when they struggle with some of the most basic things we take for granted, it can be very frustrating.  Many, many times I ask myself, “Why can’t he just go through the freaking door like all of the other kids?”  Or when friends walk out on you because they don’t know how to react to your child’s sudden tantrum?  Those moments are tough.

And then I remind myself, he can now get haircuts like a champ, he can get his nails trimmed like a super champ {these everyday things used to be a struggle too}, he is reading at grade level and is in mainstream kindergarten with the help of an aide. We are so proud of him for really embracing kindergarten and stepping up his “A” game!  One thing that has always been super important to us is that Daniel is treated like every other kid. We know that autism is a part of who he is, but it does not define who he is or will become.

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No two kids with autism are exactly alike.  The symptoms may be different yet similar, and what works for one, may not necessarily work for the other.  Catching it early and trying different therapies has helped us tremendously, as well as trying to stick to gluten free foods when possible. Most importantly, never giving up hope and never losing faith in God has been my saving grace. Every struggle is hard, but every struggle overcome is that much sweeter.  I always tell moms that come to me with concerns about their own child to just get them tested or call their ECI.  If it is nothing, then you get peace of mind, and if it is something, you can find the right help.  There is so much help available for our kids on the spectrum and so much support available for moms like me.  It has taken me a long time to get this point, but I know that Daniel will be just fine, just fine indeed.

In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, we are spreading the word about ASD and how it affects the families in our very own community.  Daniel’s story is just one of many that we will be sharing, and we hope you will join us as real local moms open up and tell their stories all throughout the day.  To read more, please click here.

[hr] Maria G - HeadshotAbout Maria G.

Maria is the mom of three boys and made her way to Texas 7 years ago via a few stints in New Jersey and Florida.  She’s been married to her husband Alex for 11 years and together they are juggling busy careers and parenthood!  First came Daniel in 2007, then they welcomed Nico in 2010 and shortly thereafter {yes, surprise!}, they welcomed Matteo in 2011.  This boy momma has an MBA from Regis University and is an AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor. For the past 3 years she has been helping women in the Katy area reach and exceed their fitness goals as the owner and Instructor of Baby Boot Camp Katy and Karna Fitness Katy. When she’s not chasing her three boys, Maria enjoys chatting it up with her girlfriends over a good bottle of wine, home improvement projects {HGTV is awesome!}, and finding a really awesome deal…on anything!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Maria- Great blog! I totally agree with you that it is by God’s faithfulness and grace that we can help all of our children (on the spectrum or not) be the very best child and one day adult, that they can be. My 6 year old son Bradley has PDD-NOS too and we have had similar adventures. Thank you for advocating for our kids and the kids out there who are not yet diagnosed. Early intervention and treatment has been very helpful and effective for us! Keep up the great work Momma! Check out my blog if you want to swap stories 🙂
    http://www.advocatingforautism.blogspot.com

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