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Challenge: Kids with Special Needs

Unconditional Love & Everyday Advocacy: Lessons Learned from my Children with Autism.

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I was going through life at 100 miles an hour, involved in everything as a student, from public school through college. Even as an educator for 34 years, I didn’t slow down, my focus just changed. The biggest change in my life would be the birth of my children, two beautiful boys, Matty and Daniel, now 20 and 25 years old. They changed my focus yet again, and any working mom will tell you that juggling motherhood and work is a challenge. But what would happen to me after their autism diagnosis would be the most life-changing, and for this I had to split myself into many people, wearing many different hats.

Children allow you to tap into a place in your heart where unconditional love lives. Once you find it and nurture it it grows like a beautiful garden. In order to fully develop it you must tend to it. Special needs children tap into a place that you first think you don’t have, you think it’s all been used up. But you dig deeper, and find the space for it to grow as well.

Children with autism are all unique, and so each parent and/or caregiver or teacher gets to know that individual with such depth, you sometimes feel like you are one person together, fused emotionally at times. With nonverbal children it becomes even more profound. You know what they want and need, sometimes sensing it from them with a small gesture or movement they may make. This newfound awareness stretches beyond special needs individuals into our world of relationships with family, friends and community members. It is a gift of understanding, one that has you slowing down to pay attention to your surroundings and the people in them.

When my husband and I decided that Matty needed more care than we could give him, we looked for residential programs that showed us that unconditional love. The people of Anderson Center of Autism have shown us that. Matty’s house manager Kristen, who has been with Matty from his start at Anderson, is his second mother, his house mom. She has always taken the time to understand him, she knows what he wants and needs, she is one with him. She has that deep heart one needs to make Matty feel safe and secure. When Matty developed Epilepsy 2 years ago, she travelled with us numerous times to hospitals, even staying through the night. Matty is a 20 year old young man who will be moving to a forever home, a group home after June of 2020, when he ages out out his pediatric program. I know he will be with new, extraordinary people. People who know unconditional love, and find it an honor to work with our special needs loved ones.

It is now my honor to go on to the next phase of my life, after retiring from teaching. I am an autism advocate, a gift my children have given me. But more important, an everyday advocate, who doesn’t move at 100 miles an hour anymore, I can stop and smell the flowers, and share them with those around me.

I still wear many other hats, but that’s another story……………...

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