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I’ll never forget the day that our daughter was diagnosed with Autism.   I think the Pediatrician had to say it several times before my wife and I really understood what was being discussed.   We were aware of her new found quirky tendencies to walk in circles on the tips of her toes but didn’t think it was anything to worry about.   We were concerned that she’d stopped saying words at two and a half but never thought it was abnormal. These changes were almost imperceivably subtle, after all.   She was still our wonderful little Georgia who loved books, animals, being outdoors, swimming, and a good laugh!

When the doctor told us he suspected Georgia had a mild case of Autism, all I could think about was “How can this be happening?   Did we do something wrong? Will she ever talk again? Will she suffer in life?” I’m embarrassed to say but I remember also wondering what Karmic misdeed was responsible for this “misfortune” befalling our family.    That was 17 long years ago.

When I think back now, it’s laughable how misguided my emotions and anxieties were.   What I couldn’t understand then was that the diagnosis hadn’t changed my beautiful daughter.   The diagnosis had changed me. It changed me as a father, a husband, and a person; and for the better.   What I didn’t understand then was that Autism wasn’t a sickness or something to be cured. I couldn’t possibly understand that Georgia would continue to grow and develop into a wonderful person b/c that’s who she was and who she was meant to be.   I didn’t understand that her uniqueness would make her character stronger and her sense of self unimpeachably authentic.

As the years went by and we watched her grow into a truly wonderful person, there were certainly ups and downs.   There were challenges and moments of sheer terror. There were also bright spots. Over time, the bright spots eclipsed the challenges and our identity as a family became clear.  Humor, empathy, resiliency, and love became our bedrock. I look back now and laugh at the panic that overtook me when I first heard the diagnosis. Autism ceased to be the shadow of dread and instead became the nucleus of a deep and fundamental pride in our daughter and our journey.   

It’s both wonderful and sad to see our little Georgia finishing up her last year of high school and looking at colleges (something we would have thought impossible when she was younger).   It’s wonderful in the sense that she’s living a full and rich life unimpeded by any stigma. It’s sad for the obvious reason: we don’t want to see her go! We’ve all become better people for having known and lived with Georgia for these many years.

There is nothing she can’t do.

The lesson for new parents with a child on the spectrum is to look past the immediate shock and stereotypes of the condition or the diagnosis.   It’s going to be okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing “wrong” with your child. They’re different and that’s wonderful. These kids see the world through a lens of pure awareness and deep feeling.    They have much to teach us about ourselves if only we can quite our anxieties and listen. There is a community of like minded parents and kids who are walking the same journey. It’s a tribe of inclusion and you should jump in with both feet!   Don’t dwell on the bad stuff but amplify the good stuff. You’re luckier than you think!