Autism is a blessing – and a cross to bear for people who live with it

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As a parent who has lived with the joy, sorrow and awesome responsibilities of guiding and providing for the needs of an infant, toddler, preschooler, high school graduate and an adult with autism, the demands of care providers are tremendous and perpetual. Taking care of a special gift from God born with unusual abilities, desires and requirements, affords very little time for most parents to debrief, ventilate, relax or just step outside of the box of perpetual care for more than a few hours.

Like raindrops that slowly erode an embedded rock, autistic people’s parents pay little attention to the evaporation that takes place in the wearing down of their physical, emotional and mental health needs. Addressing questions, dealing with echolalia quirks and trying to bring common sense to our children’s behavior is exhausting. We love our beautiful children, and they are a blessing. The innocence shown by people with autism is rarely displayed in our society among people born with normal abilities. The price parents pay as care providers is not one we can express in small numbers.

As the parent of a 41-year-old son with autism, I acknowledge that God knows all about the struggles, hardships and joys autism brings to our life as well as tears. Autism spectrum disorder offers a wide range of disabilities with a prognosis that will not change rapidly as time passes. Am I the only parent who keeps trying to figure out this bizarre communication disorder? I doubt it! Where did the serotonin go? Why can’t some magical potion of serotonin replenish itself as needed by eating more of the right kinds of food? What happened in the DNA blueprint of our children’s brains?

Autistic parents move forward, handling the needs of their children at the sacrifice of neglecting their own needs on many levels. The awesome responsibilities do not become less as people with autism grow older. Without divine intervention and multiple resources, there is no way I could have endured for more than 40 years.

Many people with autism will not experience social or meaningful relationships that lead to having a family, parenting children, or serving our country as an officer in the military or state government. Some people with autism will be able to live independently with special arrangements, but most will require support to live out their lives in a meaningful manner. Living with autism is a blessing with an unusual cross to bear. Many parents bear their cross well. In North Carolina, parents are blessed with support from Division TEACCH, a University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s statewide program addressing autism.

Living with autism is similar to living with a level of infancy that parents will never graduate from and it’s a place where chronological age has less meaning; age is just a number on a scale that does not indicate a particular level of intelligence or functioning. For aging parents, finding the right switch to turn autism off is what we hope research makes possible very soon.

MARY WARD

Rocky Mount