When I worried about him scripting, I couldn't hear him communicating. When I obsessed over his limited eye contact I couldn't see what he needed. With each and every behavior that was "different", I cried out "What is wrong?", so I couldn't see all that was right.
I was blind and my son was trying so hard to help me see.
Much has changed since those early days, thank goodness, and I have learned that there is so much in my life to be thankful for then, today and tomorrow. Ryan helped me take the blinders off, so now it is easy to see all that is in front of me, and most importantly, all that is in front of him.
As a parent who finally "got it", who finally came to see her son in all his beautiful glory, here are a few things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving and the other 364 days of the year:
1. Awareness. Mine and yours. Whether it's a puzzle piece car magnet, a blue light in April or a teacher who sees past the label and sees my son, I am thankful that the word "autism" has come out from the shadows and we are shedding a light on supports and services for autistic individuals by raising awareness.
2. Education. From family members, to friends, to police officers, to emergency service personnel, people are asking questions, people are taking the time to understand that people living with autism are not bad, or wrong, or less, they are just different.
3. People who "get it". Oh, how I am thankful for the people who get it. The people who don't ask why, but, ask how. How can I help him learn? How can I help him feel safe? How can I let him know I care? How can I support his needs? These folks are at the tippity top of my thankful list.
4. Kindness. Not everyone will ask why or how, not everyone will want a brief Autism 101, but, everyone can be kind. I am thankful beyond words when I witness such kindness.
5. Acceptance. Learning to accept that we all have differences, that we all have areas of strengths and weaknesses and accepting that those differences make us unique and amazing, not "weird" or "bad". Accepting that there are different ways to learn, live and love.
6. No judgement. It's easy to witness a situation, such as a child who seems much too old to be having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, and quickly judge the parents and the child whom you do not know. I am so grateful to those who choose to offer help from up close, rather than judge from a distance.
7. Music. Music held the key for Ryan to find his voice and open a door. A door that may have forever remained closed without music. I am so thankful for the power of music and the effect it is has on my boy's confidence.
8. The Teacher. You know the one. The one who got him from there to here. The one who you know had their paths never crossed, your child would be traveling a very different road. So thankful. So very, very thankful.
9. Forgiveness. All the times I messed up, all the times I thought I finally knew just how to help him and support him, only to realize I didn't. All the times he forgave me because he knew each and every misstep was made out of love, an all consuming love just for him.
10. Patience. Yours, mine, but, mostly his. Patience while we: became aware, educated ourselves, helped others to "get it", remembered to be kind, learned to accept our differences, reminded ourselves to help rather than judge, found an interest that opened a door, waited for The Teacher to come along, and sought forgiveness for all the times we got it wrong.
Yes, I am thankful for all of these things and many, many more, but, mostly I am thankful for my son who proved to me that there was never anything "wrong", other than my perception of what was "right".
So to Ryan, thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn from you, to advocate for you, but, mostly to love you. What a gift you are to me.