See this little guy? This is our beautiful toddler TJ. He’s just a little over two and a half, has wiry red hair and a personality to match. He loves trains and anything with wheels, and he would spend his entire life outside if we let him. He’s always moving, incredibly clever, and fiercely affectionate. He loves his baby brother and brings so much joy to our lives.
He also has autism.
A few months ago, I took TJ in for a checkup with our family doctor. Because he wasn’t talking as much as other children his age, she put us in touch with an early childhood organization that helps toddlers and preschoolers develop. After a few weeks of meetings, tests, and lots of paperwork, we got the diagnosis I had been dreading: TJ was on the autism spectrum.
The time since the diagnosis has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. We’ve had good days, bad days, and days straight from Hell. If you’re in a similar place, have friends who are, or think your child may have some sort of sensory or developmental challenges, know you’re not alone. Your feelings are valid.
We’re still working through this new phase of our life– and I’m still processing it personally. However, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings with you in the name of authenticity and community.
Obviously, no parents want to hear their child has autism. Many aspects of TJ’s future (and ours as a family) are now uncertain. Will he get to attend school normally? Will he be able to succeed in what he loves? What will other children think– and say? Kids are great, but they can also be incredibly mean, especially when they don’t understand. What about other kids’ parents? Am I now destined for a life of advocating for my son and defending him before judging eyes? Honestly, maybe.
Of course I’m going to advocate for him. There’s no question of that. I will learn all I can and do what I have to for TJ, just like I would were he not on the spectrum. But aspects of our lives are going to be different, and some of them will be much more difficult. If I’m being honest (which I vowed to always be on Delightfully Frazzled), the uncertainty of our future and TJ’s life terrifies me.
On the other hand, hearing that TJ is on the spectrum explained a LOT. As a stay-at-home mom, most of my waking hours are dedicated to teaching and caring for my family. As such, I see the best and worst of both boys on a daily basis. While TJ’s tantrums and behavioral difficulties got worse, I was convinced that I had to be doing something wrong. Some days, when TJ broke down inconsolably or refused to listen to anything I said, I felt as though I just wasn’t cut out for this motherhood thing. Trying to get advice from well-meaning friends and family usually just led to “He’s just a toddler. Every toddler does that,” leaving me feeling even more inadequate.
Knowing that TJ has autism validates some of the struggles we have faced together. Yes, TJ is still a toddler and some of his behavior is simply because he’s a toddler. However, it’s more than that. On top of being a toddler, TJ also struggles with sensory input on a daily basis– something most children (and moms) don’t have to experience. There’s more to our story and our hardships. While knowing this doesn’t alleviate our struggles, I at least can have some assurance that those struggles are very REAL and understandable. I’m not just bad at being a mom.
We’ve also been able to partner with several early childhood professionals and therapists through Help Me Grow to help TJ grow and manage his sensory needs better. We’ve only had a few sessions, but we have already received several practical ideas to help him (and us!) manage life better. Each week he responds a little more, and he continues to learn and grow.
His heart, strength, intellect, and progress constantly amaze me. He’s already my super hero.
Our therapists are all very optimistic of his progress and some of the skills he already has. I have also received great feedback about the sensory activities and Busy Bags I give TJ, which has been a huge blessing!
I’m still processing this whole diagnosis, and TJ is still obviously very young. He isn’t three years old yet, so his current diagnosis is based on educational and behavioral screening rather than medical screening. We don’t know where he falls on the spectrum yet or what the future holds. However, with the support we’ve received and the positivity of the specialists, I don’t think our future is bleak. It will be different. It will bring challenges. But, it will also bring incredible joy and treasured moments both despite and because of TJ’s diagnosis.
We’ve also found some fantastic resources online. Autism Society is an amazing organization with support groups, information, and lots of resources. Bringing Up Betty is a phenomenal podcast (and blog) with true stories from parents of children with special needs.
Being on the Autism Spectrum doesn’t define our TJ. He will always be our beautiful child. We will always love him, always fight for him, always believe in him. Even more importantly, he will always be a child of the Most High God. Through His guidance, unconditional love, and supernatural support, our family will adapt– and thrive!
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or if you’d like more information. If you’re in the same boat, I would LOVE to connect. I’ll be sharing some resources and tips as we learn and adjust, and I look forward to learning more about autism and what works best for our TJ. If you’re further along in this journey than I am, I would also love to hear some of your favorite resources or tips!