Oddly enough, I was relieved. As a teacher, I couldn’t figure out how I could manage a classroom filled with twenty children, but was unable to manage my only daughter. With a diagnosis, I could begin advocating for Elle. I’d experience moments of grief over milestones she hadn’t reached, and for the relationship that I had fantasized about. But I finally had a diagnosis I could focus my attention on, to somehow “beat.”
My husband was devastated because he did not want to face that his precious baby girl was different. He was angry, he was in denial, trying to wash away reality by avoiding me and the kids. I was stressed while fighting to get minimal services in place for my daughter; convinced early intervention was some kind of magic cure (there is no cure). I was depressed, blaming myself for possibly doing something wrong during pregnancy and watching my marriage crumble.
It took my husband about six months longer than it took me to go through the classic stages of grief and to reach the stage of acceptance. Once we both accepted Elle’s autism diagnosis as our new reality, and embraced it as part of who our beautiful daughter is, we learned to see that our child is still, and has always been, a precious gift. And instead of fighting each other, we began working as a team to get the support Elle needed.
We had quite the mixed reaction from family members. Some were convinced this was just a stage that Elle would outgrow, questioning the validity of the diagnosis, saying that we just needed to parent with a heavier hand. Some were almost overprotective, pointing out all the positive qualities in Elle, ignoring others, blinded by unconditional love. Some were not surprised, and had already been prepared for the news, showing a loyal and steadfast support for our sweet little girl. Some family and friends surprisingly left, in anger, in fear, in ignorance, never to be heard from again. As hard as it was to watch some people choose to walk away, the people who chose to stay proved that unconditional love is real, that unconditional love never waivers, and they are the core of Team Elle.
It’s been a blessing to watch as Team Elle continues to grow; consisting of friends, advocates, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, behavior analysts, social workers, teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, and coaches, along with our loving family. Along our journey, we’ve met so many wonderful, patient, kind, incredible people in the autism community who have joined our team, and whose team we’ve been honored to join as well. In the autism community, we have found our village.
Autism isn’t a tragedy. It’s a difference. We all have our good days and our bad days. While I admit autism can be frequently exhausting, in so many ways, I feel blessed to be the parent of an autistic child. I mean it when I say that she is truly my greatest teacher. Elle has shown me how to see things differently, how to smell things differently, how to listen differently, how to perceive things I never would have noticed had she not pointed it out. I’m a more patient person because of her. I am kinder, less judgmental, less critical, and oddly enough, more satisfied with life in general. I just can’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I do, however, drink a lot more coffee.
*Names have been changed to protect the children’s privacy
Shauna, a Fairfield County native, lives in the Danbury area with her husband and three children. Shauna is currently on hiatus from her career as an elementary school teacher, staying at home to care for her young family. In her spare time, she channels her creative energy into various art projects. Shauna’s greatest passion is providing a stable, secure, and loving environment her children can thrive in.