I sunk down a little deeper into my old brown leather couch and tried to clear my head. My mind had been on a loop for months desperately trying to figure out what else I could do to help my daughter, Lizzie. She was diagnosed with autism days after her second birthday, and I was sure by the time she was four years old, we would be back to our normal life…playing at the play place at the mall with our friends and eating big gluten-filled pretzels.
I wanted to numb my mind. I wanted to snap my fingers and make it all better. Lizzie’s fourth birthday was approaching fast, and she still had no ability to interact with another human. It was devastating. And worse, Thanksgiving was in a few days, and I felt thankful for nothing at the moment. My once fabulous life had turned into going from therapy to therapy and doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was strategically preventing a meltdown or baking special diet food. This was no way to live. I let myself wallow in my misery for longer than I would like to admit.
Not long after that, one of my autism mommy friend’s daughters was diagnosed with a fatal disease. The news became even more overwhelming when her other two daughters were tested and also had the same disease. I could not even imagine the pain she was going through, and I was disgusted with myself for taking for granted the health of my own three kids.
This changed my way of thinking and allowed me to do three things that enabled me to feel gratitude even while deep in the trenches of autism. These three things are:
1. Remember someone else always has it worse. My friend’s heartbreaking situation opened my eyes to my selfishness. Realizing how much I had taken for granted enabled me to go from focusing on what I don’t have to what I do have.
2. Focus on the positive. I had a choice. I could focus on what my daughter couldn’t do or what she could do. Focusing on what she couldn’t do had kept me from enjoying her in the moment, and she deserved better than that. She deserved to be loved and adored exactly as she was because she was an incredible little girl. The more I focused on what she could do, the more I was able to use her strengths to support her weaknesses.
3. Take advantage of any opportunity to do “normal stuff.” When I looked close enough, there were still some “normal” family activities we could do. My daughter loved to swim, so we took a few hours off from therapy every week to go to the pool. She was a sensory seeker, so we frequented bounce houses when they weren’t busy. It was easy to go overboard in thinking I needed to maximize every moment with therapy. Instead, occasionally taking my daughter out in the world to do normal activities not only taught her valuable lessons, but also helped living with autism feel less isolating. Feeling less isolated made it easier to be grateful for my life exactly as it was.