I learned about Don’t Hide It Flaunt It when my daughter Callia wrote the winning essay for the 2015 Kids Flaunt It/Scholastic contest. She wrote about her brother Tim and how having him as her brother makes her different. When I first read Callia’s essay, I felt like maybe I had let her down as a parent if she felt that having a brother with autism was the only thing that made her different. However, I realized that her brother having autism has been a defining factor for not just her but for our entire family.
From the time Callia was two years old, she helped her older brother learn how to say things and she enjoyed being a “typical peer model” for playing games or circle time. She would look out for Tim and would get upset if she thought that other kids were making fun of him. Callia has also tried to teach Tim how to do things by creating a schedule and simple activities/worksheets for him just like his therapists do at home. She has celebrated every little high and shared in every low. She can make Tim smile like no one else can.
She recognized from a young age that we didn’t do certain things like other families because we needed to take into account how Tim would do in a particular situation or setting. As challenging and frustrating as that can be for her sometimes, it has helped shape her into the compassionate girl that she has become. I have seen this extra level of compassion in many siblings as well as parents of special needs kids.
We all know what it’s like to love someone that is “different” and we share the same view that their being different, doesn’t make them less or lessen our love for them. In fact, for my family, my son’s “difference” which has changed so many things in our lives from how we parent to how and who we spend our time with opened my eyes to things that families that don’t have a difference take for granted.
The challenges that we had just to get out of the door in the morning, going to the movies or stepping onto an airplane were things that took time and a lot of preparation for us to do. Even going on a bike ride or walk presented many challenges for us and we learned to work together to support each other in different situations and really enjoy and cherish just being together.
Tim was diagnosed 10 years ago and a lot of people didn’t realize that he had autism or what we were going through as a family. Callia’s essay of flaunting her difference brought our family and our difference into the spotlight for the first time. Friends and family that I haven’t seen in years reached out to me. I hadn’t realized that flaunting our difference would make us relatable to so many people.
At the time he was diagnosed, I didn’t know anyone with autism. I felt isolated and alone– especially when he was going through a rough time and his behaviors became more challenging. I was fortunate to find a support group and learned how to be the best advocate I could be for my son.
Over time I have learned many things that I could do to help my family live a greater and fuller life. Earlier this year I started writing and launched my blog to share my experience with other Moms that have kids on the spectrum. I’ve also written a book about how to thrive as a parent of a child with autism.
I hope that by flaunting my family’s difference, other families that are experiencing something similar won’t feel so alone and will see that having a difference won’t prevent them from having a good life.