Elliot's Autism

Know that your child is amazing and understanding their autism is like a treasure. It's a secret only you know and if people want in on that secret, it's a gift you can give them. Because once you're able to understand them and help them to communicate, their minds are outstanding.
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"How did you know Elliot had autism?" This is a question I get asked a lot on Instagram. And I'll be honest, we didn't know for a long time. We found out quite abruptly when he was 3 years old. This his how the story goes (and keep in mind I am by no means a doctor, I just thought maybe my story may help someone else)
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It was July of 2016, before bonnets, before instagram, before I closed my gallery. Leia was about 6 months old, I was struggling to find the balance between two kids and work. Leia was born prematurely so she was not the easiest baby on the block, but she sure was cute. I remember trying to do all the things I used to do as a Mom of one, run downtown with the stroller and get milk, pop in the local bakery and grab a coffee. None of it was happening and it wasn't because I was incapable, there was something else making things very difficult for me. 
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So, I turned to my own mother for help as I often do thinking maybe a day out doing something fun would do me some good. We decided on a day trip to a zoo. I rallied myself, saying in my head "This'll be fun, this is what mothers of toddlers and babies do, they go to zoos!" In my heart I knew it was going to be a struggle yet I didn't know why. At this point I was just trying to feel normal, like I was doing a good job as a mother. But I always fell short, I was falling deeper and deeper into a depression that I couldn't pull myself out of.
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Said zoo trip was probably the worst experience of my life as a mother of two. Elliot didn't understand any of it, he didn't see anything, no eye contact was made, nothing was interesting to him. EXCEPT the deer park. There was a gated off area where there were roaming deer that could wander through the paths and we could feed them grain. He enjoyed that, face to face with the animals and seeing their home. But what he really wanted was the tiny park that was there, mostly the sandbox. Looking back at this experience I realize we spent $70+ dollars for petting one deer and playing with a bunch of sandy trucks (we have a lovely sandbox at home...) I can laugh at it now, but that trip was the straw that broke the camels back, and I don't even think we made it to see the camels in the park.
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A few days went by and I was in some haze, starting to doubt my life as a mother of two. Why couldn't I do these things? Why on earth can't my sweet boy enjoy things like other kids do? I'll never forget the day. It was a Thursday, my gallery was empty (it was that whole year, it was such a hard year to pay the bills) I was crocheting a scarf which needed restocking and in walks my mother. Now, if you know our relationship well, you know we don't just SHOW UP. There has to be a reason. She doesn't just come to visit or she would have texted me saying "let's go get some ice cream at the bakery, it's such a nice day" That's when I knew something was up, why was she here? I really thought someone had died, and in a way someone did. The life with my boy as a I knew it had died in that moment that she told me, the struggle in my mind about our relationship was gone.
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I sat there staring at her knowing she was about to tell me something, afraid of what was going to come out of her mouth. As she starts a lot of conversations with me (she's quite the research queen) "I've been doing a lot of reading and research and I thought I'd come tell you what I've discovered about Elliot". She had been watching the news, it was an incident where a therapist was laying in the street with a distressed man and police were surrounding this man as the therapist was explaining "This man has autism, I am his therapist, I am trying to help him". Watching the clip more, the man with autism had a toy truck in his hand, he was making it fly past his eyes, very close to them. Elliot did this every. single. day. That's the only way Elliot played with his cars, right by his eyes. We never questioned it, we just thought he was a bit different. For my mother (I never saw the clip) it's like a light bulb went off and her researching self started to dig deeper. As she began compiling a list she discovered many, many trying things that Elliot did. In that moment it clear to us he had autism.
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It's hard to explain how I felt right then. I felt ashamed that I didn't realize it sooner but I also felt a sense of relief. I was grateful for my mother's newfound knowledge but I was also terrified of what she just told me. I was so many things all at once, scared, sad, anxious. But honestly, mostly, I was overjoyed. Isn't that funny? Such a huge challenge ahead of me was making me SO happy. But I like a challenge, I'm good with having things I can actually help or control. The unknown was gone. Armed with this information and insight into my little boys world, books that could be read, support groups that could be attended. Now that I can handle. 
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So thinking back to the zoo trip it all made sense now. He couldn't see anything through those fences, the hoards of people, the lights, the intercom, the smells, the everything. He sat in the stroller and played with his matchbox cars, paying no mind to anything going on around him. And when we tried to make him, that's when the tantrums would happen. It makes sense now that the deer park was what he liked. A big open area, not a lot of people, the sounds were gone, it was a peaceful place. And as for the sandbox, well he was familiar with those sandy trucks, he knew what he needed to do there. He was comfortable sitting in that area by himself knowing I was close by
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The thing with autism is this. It's not something that can be cured, it's not something to fear and it's never something to ever be ashamed of sharing. This little boy needed help and I in no way needed to change who he was. We all needed to change how we were with him. We needed to learn how to help him, how we could assist him in navigating this world because through his eyes things were much different than what we saw. 
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This video below makes me cry every time I watch it. This was my life with my little boy. You can see how not understanding him made it so difficult to help him. But I can say, being almost 2 years into this journey with him, we can now handle just about anything. We know when it's too much, we know what he can and cannot do, and we have strategies to help him come down from an overstimulating situation.
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Autism isn't the same for every child. When I get sent messages of people listing off what the child in their life does or doesn't do, I can't just say "oh yes, this child has autism" There is a whole spectrum, one that Elliot is barely on. My advice to you is to read everything you can, even if your doctors don't see what you see, even if you get put on a 2 year waiting list to be assessed by a professional. The tools that you can acquire by reading books about behavioral issues and autism can't hurt. These tools can help you be a better mom, grandma, dad, grandpa, aunt, uncle, friend... whatever you are to the child that needs your help, learning more about what they may be experiencing can give you a greater understanding of what you can do for them.
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And lastly, if your child has autism and you're struggling in public with them, my advice to you is this. If you get an eye roller, a person saying "Will you control your child?" or some dirty looks from passers by, I say this to them: "This is Elliot and he has autism. We are learning how to help him cope in social situations. Your patience with us is greatly appreciated" 9 times out of 10, that person crouches down to Elliot's level, takes on a softer tone, and learns with us. It's not an easy road, it's a scary one and there's lots to overcome. But love always wins. Know that your child is amazing and understanding their autism is like a treasure. It's a secret only you know and if people want in on that secret, it's a gift you can give them. Because once you're able to understand them and help them to communicate, their minds are outstanding. 
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