A mom’s personal journey through Autism

Autism in its self can be clinically described as a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. 

My Autism story begins in the spring of 1982. Our first born child enters this world on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. She is ahealthy 7 lbs. 13 oz. baby girl.  We name her Sara. She was thefirst grandchild born into our big Greek family. Needless to say there was much anticipation for this bundle of joy. Sara took her time developing her language, her motor skills and her connection to things and people. Being the first born I had no one to compare her to. I had numerous well-meaning friends, doctors, and family members telling me that every child is different and develops at their own pace. I accepted that, but had my own concerns always trickling into my thoughts.

Fast forward to age 4. We put Sara into her first preschool setting at the YMCA. She would attend two days a week for three hours each day. It only took one or two weeks for her teacher to notice that she was not “up to the level “she should be at her age. They asked me if I had her hearing tested, because when they asked her to do a task, she would either (1) not look at them or (2) crawl under the table. Needless to say I pushed aside all the well-meaning advice and sought answers. I took her to the University of Irvine in California where they did a battery of tests. The results came back as a sting to my soul. ASD. Autism spectrum disorder.  

In the 80s not much was known about autism. I had a teacher at the YMCA that knew a doctor who had just turned his pediatric practice over to the research and caring for those with autism. Sara  began going to this doctor monthly. She went through occupational therapy to work on her motor skills, amongst a whole host of other things to help her prepare for school. 

You have to remember that during the early 80s the school systems were just starting to “include” children that had special needs into their mainstream classes. I can remember going to teachers meetings to present why I felt it would be a benefit for Sara  to be in a mainstream class. If you know anything about me, I am not a public speaker, but  was carried that day by my passion to fight for Sara. Sara did not do well in the normal classroom and was moved in and out of mainstream classes until fifth-grade. From six grade through the end of high school she was in special ed classes. During the school years  I fought hard to keep her supported in the classroom. Fought  to create friendships for her.  Fought back tears  of disappointment that she would not have the memories of school that I did.  Looking back you could say that HER experience was her OWN and it was wonderful. 

As she graduated from high school with a special education degree she is launched into the unknown.  We were fortunate to have her be part of a pilot program at a home improvement store in town. I went with her to all her training classes, sitting next to her to make sure that she understood what she was about to get into. It was more about the corporate culture than what her actual job would be. They placed her in the garden department and her job was to water the plants. The day came when I dropped her off, helped her clock in and waited for the support to come teach her. It’s all a blur and I’m sure it’s something that I’ve stuffed so far down that I don’t want to remember, but the support never came. I can remember showing her and actually walking around the garden department teaching her how to water plants. She didn’t know how to turn on the hose or turn it off.   I knew I had to leave her alone but my heart was troubled. I did eventually leave and when I picked her up that day she was soaking wet from head to toe. Every morning I would drop her off and drive away with tears in my eyes. Every day that I picked her up she was soaked. I can laugh at it now because I think how many other people were soaked by her well-meaning aim at trying to get those darn plants watered. Needless to say it didn’t work out. The rest is history. Dave was at a crossroads in his career and out of his desire to create a job for Sara, Our Thrift Store was birthed.

I can’t finish my story without sharing my heart as to what autism has meant to our family. Early on we knew that we all needed to show GRACE to each other when we have frustrating days.   We LOVE big! You never know someone’s story or struggle.  PATIENCE –  because there are days that we simply wake up and it’s Groundhog Day. We go through the same obstacles, questions, routines, and challenges daily LONG SUFFERING – We have become less quick to react to adversity – UNITY we have built a pretty awesome family unit supporting Sara.  Brother, sister-in-love, niece, nephews, cousins, aunts, and uncles and church family. All would agree that the challenges that we have faced with Sara have brought us to a uniquely wonderful place in our lives. Without Sara I have no idea what my life would look like. And I would have to say it’s a pretty wonderful life.