It was the Fall of 2011 and two weeks after I had laid my mother to rest, and we received the diagnosis: Autism.
I don’t really know which came first, the grief from losing my mother or from the loss of the life I thought my son would be living pre-autism vs post-autism. The next few years were a blur because I was in the midst of a depression, while homeschooling my young autistic son. I would explain the reasoning behind this, but it really doesn’t matter, because it was due to no fault of my own. My priority at the time was to make sure that my son was able to get the help he needed and with the right tools in hand (environmental, therapeutic, and all the therapies available to us at the time). Homeschooling my autistic son was the best thing for him and even after we returned to a brick-and-mortar school environment in his 5th grade year through 9th grade years, it was just not a good fit period. Then when the pandemic hit, distance/remote learning clicked, and we made the permanent switch to an alternative learning environment and have not looked back.
You are probably wondering why I am telling you this. And the answer to that is because if I can help any family out there who is truly struggling to decide which is the best environment for his/her autistic child, then they should start with how best your child learns and then go from there. At least in our experience, advocating for our son in a brick-and-mortar school environment was an uphill battle with losing of valuable paperwork, removal of a needed classroom structure (which really worked for our son), no progress for about 6 years (although we did ask a lot-nothing ever came of it) and so many more disappointments and mishaps. At the end of the day, you have to make a hard decision and sacrifice a lot for the sake of your special needs child. This is what parent advocacy is all about and what other neurotypical parents do not see.
Parenting a special needs child is not a one-time thing, it is a lifelong commitment (this is really for any parent), but with a parent who is raising a special needs child the circumstances and commitment are different, varied and usually challenging to say the least. But overall, it is so worth it. I came across this poem around the time our autistic son was first diagnosed and cried like a baby after reading it, but now 11 years later and counting I just smile because our autistic son has grown so much since he was first diagnosed. For those who ever have had the pleasure of meeting our son, he is such a gift from God. I would not have it any other way. So, in all my tears, struggle and continued challenges and triumphs, there is joy. Keep advocating. Keep fighting and don’t ever stop.
Here is that poem:
So, with all the tears, they will come, there is joy and peace with every milestone and finding the right fit is truly a blessing. You have to do what fits for you and your autistic child (no one can or should tell you what they think works), especially if they have not experienced it firsthand.