An Emotional Letter to a New Autism Mom — From a Mom Who’s 4 Years In

My second son always just felt different. When I first laid eyes on Walker, I thought, “Finally. There you are.” I didn’t mean, “Finally, after nine months, there you are.” I meant, “Finally, after 31 years of missing you and not even knowing it, there you are.” 

Walker felt like home from minute one. I still don’t know why. I didn’t love him more than my other babies; I just knew him right away. I can’t explain it.

Today, that innately quirky newborn boy is seven years old and walking proof that different is not only “not less” but is wholly, exactly enough.

An Unexpectedly-Expected Diagnosis

Walker was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder just before his third birthday. I didn’t know much about autism at that point — but I was an expert on my boy. 

Autism Spectrum? Yes. That felt right. 

Disorder? Well, I wasn’t sure about that. 

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My perfect boy didn’t say much yet, but he could sing the lyrics from The Greatest Showman soundtrack at the top of his lungs with the kind of fervor and glee that communicated so much more than words ever could. 

In those days, he didn’t do a lot of recognizable pretending, but he spent sunny afternoons running around the yard in nothing but rain boots and underpants, blowing the fluff off of dandelions and giggling as the seeds blew away on the breeze.

Walker was a little bit reserved in public, but at home, he was wild, naked, filled with mischief and belly laughs and the kind of unabashed joy reserved only for the carefree days of early childhood.

Nothing about him felt “out of order” to me. 

And Now It’s Your Turn

Your child’s recent diagnosis might have been a long time coming, or it might have thrown you for a loop. Either way, having a lot of feelings is fine. It really is. You had an idea of the life your child might live, and like all parents, you wanted to see them walk an easy road. No parent would choose to watch their child struggle, and right now, especially if you don’t know much about autistic people, it might feel like “struggle” is exactly what autism is going to mean for your kid. It’s okay to be scared. 

There is so much for you to learn, and that’s understandably overwhelming — but this is not a time to panic, mourn, or despair. Your child isn’t sick, injured, or doomed. The spectrum is vast, and at this moment, you truly have no idea what the future holds for your child. 

Don’t get ahead of yourself, and whatever you do, don’t count your child out yet. 

My son is 4 years past his initial diagnosis, and I can honestly say he hasn’t struggled any more than his neurotypical peers. His strengths and weaknesses aren’t always typical, but they allow him to sail through some parts of life while needing lots of support in others, just like any other kid. He is happy. Quirky, brilliant, and happy.

What These Early Weeks Will Mean to You

In these early weeks after diagnosis, you will find lots of information about your next practical steps. 

Your child will likely qualify for speech services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or educational support. Maybe all of the above, depending on how much support would benefit them. Your child’s diagnosing doctor, your health insurance company, and your school system are excellent resources for you right now. They can help you nail down therapists, appointments, IEPs, and introduce you to other families with autistic kiddos. You won’t be alone, and neither will your child.

Above All, Remember: Your Child’s Future is Full of Promise

Regardless of their support needs, autistic people find success in a wide variety of chosen fields. Autistic people are thriving as influencers, authors, actors, scientists, doctors, cashiers, executives, artists, spouses, parents, and friends.

Maybe your kiddo will forge a path you didn’t see coming, but autistic or neurotypical, you were never guaranteed the future you dreamed for them. They never owed you that. They deserve the future they will dream into life. 

Your job as a parent was always to support them as they become whomever they want to be. When autism entered the picture, nothing about that part of your role changed. Your kiddo just needs a little extra support and permission to be their full self. They deserve the extra time and space it takes to learn how to exist in a world that was wholly constructed without them in mind.

You can’t change the world for your child, but the world you construct in your home and your heart can be safe for them, accepting, welcoming, and kind. Your job is to connect them with the support they need, then just keep dreaming of the endless possibilities for your child’s life, and cheering them on as they meet goal after goal. 

No matter the path, I promise you this, from one autism mom to another: There are so many beautiful days ahead. 

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