Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kindred Spirits

If there is one part of Autism that I would never want to trade in, it is the remarkable people that Autism has brought into my life.

I have made so many lifelong friends through having a daughter with Autism.  I have met doctors, nurses, therapists, speech teachers, Autism teachers, paraprofessionals, other parents of Autisic children, grandparents, uncles, and aunts of Autistic children, and so many others that have been touched by this disorder.  Some of these people I have met by chance, some of them I have been thrown together with, but many I have befriended for life.   There is just something about having a child with a disability that exposes you to the harsher elements of life, so when you find a "kindred spirit", you tend to cling to them. 

One of my closest friends has a 16 year old daughter with Autism.  I met her by chance at a dance recital.  I was the "room mom" for my oldest daughter, and she was there with her Autistic daughter, who was in a different dance class.  I noticed the girl right away, knew she was "on the spectrum".  But you can't just march up to a parent and say, "hey, is your daughter Autistic?".  I managed to start a conversation with the mom, and steered the talk towards my children, sharing with her my struggles with my then 7 year old Katie.  Once she heard about Katie, she just started opening up about her daughter, and we instantly connected.  Girls with Autism are the minority, and they have very specific differences with their abilites and disabilites.  We became fast friends, but unfortunately lost touch when she changed jobs and I changed email addresses.  As fate would have it, her daugher had a teacher that knew me, and we reconnected this past year.  Our daughters, mine now 12 and hers 16, are so very similar that it is eerie. 

This past summer we had a chance to get together with her family, my family, and the teacher that brought us back together.  Watching the 2 girls and their mannerisms, their quirks, their obsessions, their sense of humor, and their passions, was like watching 2 versions of the same girl.  I cannot describe the feeling of having someone else "know" EXACTLY what I am dealing with, what Katie is going through, what it is like as a mother in this situation.  As much as others spend time with Katie, they aren't there 24/7, they aren't there at all the meetings and doctor appointments and school conferences.  They aren't there at the end of the day after a big party, when she is so overstimulated that she can't fall asleep until 1 in the morning.  Most people see Katie at her best, or maybe even a little when she is starting to have a meltdown.  But you can't fully grasp the whole "parent of Autism" until you live it, breathe it, until it breaks your heart.  But my friend knows, and I can call her and say, "Katie is going to a school dance", and she will know that I am freaking out, and she will know why.

I don't allow myself to play the "if" game.  You know, "If Katie wasn't Autstic, what would life be like".  If Katie wasn't Autistic, then she wouldn't be Katie.  I could drive myself crazy playing that game, and to me that isn't fair to her, and it questions my love and loyalty to her.  There is no doubt that all of our lives would be worlds apart from what they are now, but if I had never had this child, what I would miss the most of all, are the friends that I have made along the way.  The friends that have helped me with my Adventures in Autism, as they have adventures of their own.

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