‘The doctor said, ‘Do you know what this might mean?’ I felt CHEATED. ‘There’s NOTHING wrong with him!’ I had to ‘fix it.’: Mom of autistic son navigates challenges, ‘I embrace him for who he is’

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“For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a mom. So, at the age of thirty-seven, I was thrilled when I found out I was pregnant with my first and only baby. My pregnancy was fairly uneventful, and my sweet baby boy was born on September 23, 2014. Owen was a very easy-going baby. We quickly bonded and settled into our daily routine of feedings, diaper changes, and everything else that comes with having a newborn. Everything seemed to be going as you would expect.

However, as the months progressed, his pediatrician began to make comments about his development being slightly on the outside edge of what was considered ‘normal.’ Each time he would make mention of this, I could feel myself becoming more and more defensive and almost angry that anyone would think my precious boy was anything less than perfect. Owen was late to sit, crawl, babble, and walk. His first birthday came and went and he still wasn’t walking. At fifteen months, the doctor said he would give it a few more months before referring us for physical therapy. At eighteen months, Owen finally took his first tentative, unassisted steps. I was so relieved! ‘See, there’s nothing wrong with him,’ I thought. But his pediatrician said, ‘You know what this might mean, don’t you?’

Courtesy of Jenni Zigler

Those words echoed in my head as I began to see more red flags pop up over the coming weeks and months. As a teacher, I knew the signs of autism. As a mother, I was still in denial. Not long after he started walking, I noticed him flicking at his ears and flapping his little hands. He would sometimes become overwhelmed by a cartoon on TV and start to cry. He wasn’t eating all of the finger foods that I’d remembered my nieces and nephews loving when they were his age. He wasn’t pointing, waving, or speaking. Yet I still waited, thinking surely there was nothing to be worried about.

One day shortly after Owen turned two, we were having lunch at a restaurant when a well-intentioned lady walked up to us as she was leaving. Having noted Owen’s hand flapping and squealing sounds she said, ‘My grandson has autism too.’ This was the first time anyone else had taken note of his differences and brought it to my attention in such a straight-forward way. I held back tears as we spoke, but it was that moment when I knew I had to face reality.

Courtesy of Jenni Zigler

At the suggestion of a coworker, I sought out services from my state’s early intervention program. Although they couldn’t diagnose him, they evaluated his development and found him to be in the ‘delayed’ category in almost all areas. He began receiving in-home occupation therapy and early intervention services. I made an appointment with a developmental
pediatrician for further evaluation. When Owen was two and a half years old, he was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and mixed receptive and expressive communication disorder.

It was a bittersweet day as I had my answer, but still so many questions. Looking back, those early days after his diagnosis are all a blur. I remember feeling a sense of urgency to get him into all of the therapies I could so that I could ‘fix it.’ I went through a grieving process of letting go of my expectations of what I thought my child, and motherhood in general, would be like. It took some time to overcome those feelings of being cheated somehow, of the unfairness of my little boy having to face so many challenges in his young life.

Today, Owen is six years old and thriving. He attends a charter school for autistic children where he is a kindergartener. He is a smart, sweet, happy boy who loves rocks, dinosaurs, and outer space. He can read and count to one hundred. He knows his states, countries, and planets. He loves playing outdoors and going to his weekly swim class. There are still many developmental milestones that he hasn’t achieved yet, but I no longer worry and feel sad about that. I choose to focus on the positives. I have come to embrace Owen for exactly who he is. He is autistic, and he is wonderful!”

Courtesy of Jenni Zigler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenni Zigler. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more powerful perspectives from other moms:

‘I can only do so much.’ It’s just the two of us. One day, I won’t be here. Who will tell her I’m gone? Who will make sure she’s safe?’: Autism mom shares daughter’s journey, ‘I’ll let her lead the way’

‘Mama’s only human. I can’t promise I won’t ever let bad thoughts creep in or have bad days. But I can promise I’ll always be there.’: Autism mom pens open letter to kids

‘Your son’s on the spectrum.’ Hearing those words was TERRIFYING. What would happen when he got older? I felt so alone.’: Mom to son with autism urges ‘you deserve compassion’

‘Is he walking yet?’ I got defensive. I gave a long-winded response, explaining everything else he was doing as if it were an issue.’: Mom urges ‘don’t rush milestones’

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