Carly Carver Stanford
The Ashland Beacon
April is recognized nationally as Autism Awareness Month, while the United Nations sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day as April 2.
In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2016 data.
At one point, this information meant utterly nothing to me. I would probably wear the “blue” for April, snap a photo, and post it to my social media with some trending hashtag. There was no deeper meaning, no real education there, just me conforming to whatever was trendy that month.
That changed in August of 2016, when my second born child and only son, Logan, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at Norton Children's Weisskopf Center-Development.
I remember the day so clearly. His pediatrician had referred him to the center, as she was concerned about his development, lack of speech, and sensory difficulties. I waited for the day to come where he would be evaluated, but never really thought much would come of it. After spending the day with a panel of specialists in different fields, from a medical doctor to a speech pathologist, the panel sat down with me and said words I will never forget.
“Your son has Autism.”
Panic. Complete panic. What is Autism? Will he ever be “normal?” Will he struggle? How do I help him? I do not even know what Autism is, how do I raise a child with it?
I cannot say I just spent the day processing; I think I spent the next few weeks processing… processing and researching everything I could.
He was diagnosed as nonverbal… does that mean he would never speak? Would I never get to hear “mommy?” Would he never tell me he loved me?
I had such heartbreaking thoughts… and then I read very powerful words from Richard Solomon, author of the “Play Project.”
“It is okay to grieve the child you thought you would have. Grieve. And then learn to accept and love the child that you do have.”
I let my heart break. And then I let it be put back together and made whole by the beauty of Autism and neurodivergence.
I dedicated myself fully to supporting my autistic child. I left my career. I put him in different therapies four days a week, from Music Therapy, to Occupational and Speech Therapy. I did not just ask him to change, but I dove into the world of Autism with him and learned to see things through his beautiful eyes.
I learned to accept and advocate for my child. And while I would have always supported him, just as he was, my son eventually developed speech.
On August 18, 2017, my son said “I love you mommy” for the first time. There were no words to describe the power of those words. Words that many people hear at a year old or sooner, I waited until my son was nearly four years old to hear. They were worth waiting for.
Now, soon to celebrate his seventh birthday during our favorite month, Autism Awareness Month, my son is a thriving, talkative, loving, caring, special boy. He has taught me more than I could ever teach him.
Autism Awareness Month is a great time for advocacy, but a challenge I would like to suggest for readers, is to break beyond awareness. Learn acceptance. Break beyond the “wear blue and snap a selfie” mentality. Sit down with someone with Autism and learn their world. It’ll be a decision you never regret.