To the Parent of an Autistic Child, for the Times Your Path Feels Rocky

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To the mom or dad of a child on the autism spectrum,

The road we are traveling can feel tumultuous at times — rocky, unpaved. Honestly though, the rocky path isn’t so bad.

I began this journey more than seven years ago. At first, it resembled the same paved road traveled by other parents. Then, one day, it didn’t. The pavement disappeared, heavy rains turned the dirt muddy, and the fog made it hard to see where I was. I fell down almost every day.

I stumbled to the ground a few times just yesterday. Then, I picked myself up and painted a mud mask on my son, Nicholas. I told him he was a lion in the rainforest. He gave a happy “roar” and marched courageously through the muddy path alongside me. His smile sparked enough strength to keep me going.

I did not choose this path; this path chose me. I am not the same person I was before I traveled this road, and I’m not sorry it happened. That’s right. I said, I’m not sorry.

Imagine that everyone you know is a gold miner. Your family raised you with gold fever. Your friends gloat endlessly about their gold riches. Your entire community thrives on gold treasure. You spend your life learning the tricks of the gold trade. After a lifetime of preparation, you begin your quest for gold.

Months of hard work pay off when you mine something that looks interesting. Barely able to contain your excitement, you rush home to share it with everyone you know. Your family asks, “How heavy is it?” You say, “It’s not very heavy.” Your friends ask, “When you melt the metal, is it enough to make a brick?” You respond, “It doesn’t melt, and it’s not metal.” Your neighbors ask, “Is it white gold or yellow gold?” You answer, “It’s not gold.”

You’ve never seen anything like it. Its sparkle excites you. Its uniqueness is captivating. You know what you’ve found is spectacular, but it doesn’t meet anyone else’s standards. So you cherish it quietly.

One day, something phenomenal happens. A stranger sees the treasure you’ve hidden away. They say, “It’s a diamond, and it’s beautiful.” You had no idea what a diamond was, but you knew it was the most amazing thing you’d ever seen. It was more precious to you than gold, and you knew that from the moment you saw it. You came upon your diamond unexpectedly, and now you never want to let it go.

Your diamond is magnificent. Please don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise. Your tumultuous journey is not in vain. Its purpose is to prepare you for what lies ahead. And it doesn’t mean you will always be on this path alone. It just means you’ll build your tribe slowly, with time and patience.

I know what you’re wondering. It’s a question I’ve asked at least a hundred times. Does it get easier? It might not. Instead, you get stronger. You learn to recognize greatness where other people miss it. You figure out that most people learn to love in spite of things, but you teach yourself to love in anticipation of things. Usually, unconventional things. Few people are capable of this unless they’ve traveled our path.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that your flame burns hotter than most everyone else. Your mama/papa bear roar creeps out prematurely every now and then. This is because your emotions run unfiltered. You’ve learned to love deeper. You’ve learned to fight harder. You know what matters most. Because of this rocky path, your passion has become instinctive. It’s not a bad thing.

It’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to be afraid. It’s OK to get things wrong. It’s entirely OK to be unsure of what you’re doing most of the time. I remind myself of this every day. It’s also what I tell Nicholas. Although, I’m pretty sure he figured this out long before I did.

This journey is all about learning to master the struggles of life. It’s about teaching ourselves to convert frustrations into passions. It’s about figuring out how to struggle with our dignity in tact, so that we can teach our kids to do the same. On this path, we struggle with purpose. And the best part is that every beautiful diamond we find along the way is ours to treasure.

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