I can’t believe that it is almost the end of summer vacation for Michael. It is by far the fastest season of the year! This time of year has me feeling sad that my favorite season is coming to an end, but also happy about the big end of summer BBQ my husband and I host at our house. It is one of the few times of year we gather with friends we have known for many years, (some of them since high school), to celebrate our friendship and catch up. It started out as me and my girlfriends, then grew to include boyfriends as we all coupled off, and now still our children are part of the celebration, those of us that have children. It is a special time for me to eat, laugh and reminisce about all the good times we’ve had over the years.
When Michael was first diagnosed with autism, I was nervous about continuing this tradition. I didn’t know how my friends from my pre-autism life would react to my child now that he was labeled as having a disability. I was so scared of pity, discomfort and fear, though I kept saying all the while to myself that if our friendships couldn’t withstand this, the friendships weren’t as strong as I had once thought. I am so glad my fears were unfounded, and I approached the topic with honesty, openness, and encouraged questions up front. I didn’t want autism to become the elephant in the room. Michael was still the sweet little boy they had always known. I think because of mine and Michael’s father’s comfort, and my friends willingness to ask questions and be open, my relationship with all of them got stronger. They love and are as continually amazed by Michael as we are, and now that he is older, he knows them too, and calls them all Auntie and Uncle as I did my parents’ close friends growing up. He even is starting to form a little relationship with one of my friend’s daughters which is so sweet. All my friends’ children are girls, but that doesn’t bother Michael one bit!
What Michael has taught me once again, is if his father and I as his parents embrace him fully for who he is, others who genuinely are our friends, will do the same. Most people will accept difference once it is demystified, and without going into Autism 101 lecturing, I think we have answered questions over the years and shown directly how we and Michael live with autism daily. Yes, there are challenges. Yes, we need to be aware of what he needs at any time to regulate with, and we are always honest that we may need to leave a party early, we may seem stressed. It is all part of being exceptional parents, and though difficult, we wouldn’t change our child and lives for anything.
What special family and friend activities do you participate in with your Exceptional Child? Are the people from your “other life” before autism receptive to your child, to your new family? If not, it is definitively better to let them go as you’ll all be happier that way. If yes, then that’s great. Treasure those friends who, even when they find your life hard to understand, make the effort to try, as you do with their life that is different from yours. By celebrating the little moments in big ways, you remind yourself of who you were before your child was born, who you still in some ways are now, and who you can become. Until next time.