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April is Autism Awareness Month. Although Autism has been getting good press, many still don’t realize it’s a spectrum. Language skills, social skills, and development can vary. And autism can strike anywhere, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status.

So I have a treat for you. One of my favorite mommies and bloggers agreed to write a “guest blog” about her experience with her daughter. You can follow her story more closely at Living Life with a Side of Autism. Thank you, Jen!

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She sat in the hallway. Alone. In a blue, plastic chair. She was told she wasn’t welcome. She couldn’t behave like that.

She was 3. Non-verbal. At school.

This was life for my daughter before we got her Autism diagnosis. She was treated like the bad kid in class, and every day I received what amounted to a verbal lashing from her teacher. There were exasperated sighs and advice on how to better discipline. I felt like a failure. I had messed up my kid. I was reminded of that each day at 11:30am, when I trudged into the school to drag out my screaming first born. Or maybe at 11:45 after she had stopped having a tantrum in the classroom because she couldn’t put on her jacket, yet had no words to ask for help. Not that it mattered. She was still the bad kid, words or not.

A lot of children are diagnosed with Autism around 2 1/2 or 3. Katie, however, wasn’t diagnosed until the month she turned 6. We went through years of evaluations and diagnosis after diagnosis, none of which really fit. First, we were told Katie had low self esteem. Then we were told it was ADHD. Then, that she was probably bi-polar. None of this explained her extreme language delay or social deficits, however. We were told everything from she just was choosing not to speak, to she just had a strong personality. No one took all of her symptoms and put them together. We were just given a different explanation for each concern we had.

Over the years, I have moved from being the mother who just sat there and nodded her head in agreement, to the mother who does her own research and fights for her child. When Katie went from preschool to Kindergarten, things really went downhill. Fast. She was having a lot of meltdowns at school, and eventually began hitting other students. I was tired of being told my child was just a discipline problem with a speech delay. I lived with her and knew there was more to it than that. I saw her rigid behavior. I saw her inability to transition and inflexibility when it came to change. I saw her not making any friends, not knowing how to play with her toys, and becoming more and more physically aggressive at home. I saw her unable to participate in childhood activities, such as dance, and soccer, and gymnastics. She would either meltdown or be off on her own. I saw how overwhelmed she became around large groups. How going to the busy store guaranteed us a meltdown. How she had severe anxiety over the smallest thing. How she had irrational fears. No, my daughter wasn’t spinning in circle or flapping her arms, but were those the only things that defined Autism?

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Note: I wrote this blog nearly a month ago and am just now getting around to posting it because a good friend has been asking for it for ages and I thought she could use a small pick-me-up. This one’s for you, Liz…

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Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

This winter has been one full of challenges, stresses, adaptation, loss, learning, sickness, and love. Yes, love. Without it, I’m not sure I would’ve come out as relatively unscathed on this end.

This winter, New England received more snow than it had in years. It was blizzard after blizzard. It was cold and unrelenting. Even worse, my body appeared to be taking lessons.

One thing that I’ve always prided myself on is being able to rise from just about anything and everything stronger and smiling. After December, I was petering on the edge, still smiling, but straining and struggling not to lose myself. But after the second month of medical hell, I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t going to rise.

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Author’s note: This is a journal entry I wrote the day after my 26th birthday. While much has changed since then, the core of this entry has not. Therefore, I decided to share it again, the day after my 27th birthday, because it still rings true.

Of all the people that I admire – and there are many – three repeatedly come to mind:
1. Gandhi, because he said, “be the change you wish to see in the world”;
2. Ang, our angel, who lived that change for each of her 22 years;
and
3. My mother, because she reminded me of the belief I shared with Ang and Gandhi.

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