My son’s autism diagnosis shook the foundations of my life. The future, my faith and even the present crumpled before me. Each day was a struggle to find any morsel of inner peace. Our son was somehow “broken;” not the perfect son for which we had hoped and prayed.
Days dissolved into months and on some days we crawled forward, and on others, backward. “One step at a time,” became my daily mantra. Gradually, I learned to cling to hope, faith, a supportive family and professionals. Awareness permeated my mind that the path ahead would not illuminate in totality. Only the next step would be shown to me. I just had to put one foot in front of the other - and trust.
Months have now stretched into years and the gift of hindsight has been delivered. Now, I am a teacher of students with autism. I find joy in spending my time in the world of autism. My son and the students I have taught have grown physically, emotionally, intellectually during the years. And, so have I. The woman I am today is only a semblance of who I was when I held my baby boy. These children have given me gifts beyond what I could have hoped for.
A child with autism taught me to reach beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.
With the diagnosis of autism came a persistent will to learn more, read more, take courses, and to become more. I became tenacious and determined. I learned how to go after what I wanted for him but in the spirit of collaboration. If anyone had told me years before his birth that I would work part time as a teacher, run a therapy program, raise three children and nurture a marriage, I would have thought them crazy! We do not know the strength we have until we are given it. It isn’t until we are swimming for our lives that the lifesavers arrive. My son forced me to stretch every ounce of comfort level and reach into the realm of UNCOMFORTABLE. I have grown stronger, more capable and more self confident because of him.
A child with autism taught me to live in the present.
Many times I have been hurrying off to some ‘important’ event or errand only to be forced to wait while a child with autism examines the intricate details of a grain of a leaf, sniffs the brick wall or explores the feel of sand in his hands. These children often have little care for time; rather they are drawn to the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the world within their immediate grasp. Taking the time to watch a helicopter, catch a glimpse of a bird and take notice of those things that intrigue them has been a lesson I needed to discover. I am learning look deeply into the present moment and be thankful for it rather than rush past it in order to get to something ‘important.’
A child with autism taught me to re-evaluate my meaning of success.
My son and my students with autism have taught me that our productivity doesn’t make us loveable - we already are. Our happiness in life doesn’t rest on education credentials, financial gain and material prosperity. Children with challenges have taught me that our purpose lies in what we bring to others, how we enrich the lives of those who know us - and those who don’t. Autism is a different way of being and it rallies us to find ways to help those with it at the same time as we accept and love unconditionally. Success is about accepting ourselves as we are and striving to be the best we can be.
A child with autism taught me to celebrate life’s small gifts
The world may not recognize or even understand the sweet success of a verbal request for juice, the matching of an item with the written word, or the exhilaration of a kiss or a hug from a child who has never reached out to another. Life is full of little celebrations that make it rich and rewarding. A new word or a new expression that the child did not have the day before are cause for joy. We who love a person with autism, know the thrill of a teenager who is invited to friend’s house for the first time and a date with someone who “accepts me the way I am.”
A child with autism taught me to build relationships.
Living with and teaching children with autism have taught me to value those people that come into my life that give of their time and talent. I am grateful for the countless therapists, doctors, teachers, and fellow parents and paraprofessionals who helped us find our way and our son. I am even grateful for those who were less than helpful. They taught me important lessons about my own attitude and behaviour. I learned that everyone plays a role in shaping the person you become. The debilitating impact of assumptions, glares and disapproval have taught me to teach rather than judge. Information tears down ignorance. I see inappropriate behavior differently now. I can empathize, smile and reassure. I have learned to build relationships in order to create a solid support system for my son and myself. I have become a strong and respectful advocate.
Life has a way of making the children our teachers. Sometimes we are led and sometimes we are forced into a situation where we are given a child that has challenges beyond our experience. The gift is revealed as you open yourself to be the student. The child will lead if you allow yourself to be lead. The child will push you to new limits, if you allow yourself to grow professionally and personally. I offer my deepest gratitude to those individuals that have autism. You have taught me more than I could hope to teach you.
Jennifer Krumins is a special education teacher in Peterborough, Ontario with more than 20 years of experience in special education and the regular classroom. In addition to her Bachelor of Arts Degree, Jennifer has studied with Queen’s University and Nipissing University on Special Education and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Currently, she is working on her Masters degree in Special Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is married with three children (one of which has autism).
Jennifer is the author of three books: Been There. Done That. Finally Getting it Right. A Guide to Educational Planning for Students with Autism and One Step at a Time: ABA and Autism in the Classroom; Practical Strategies for Implementing Applied Behaviour Analysis for Student with Autism and Autism and the Grandparent Connection: Practical Ways to Understand and Help your Grandchild with Autism