10 April 2012

calling all cheerleaders

Whether you go for awareness or acceptance, if you love someone with autism, April is the month to say it loud. (Not that we don't do that the other eleven months.) I told a friend the other day that I'd been struggling to write a post here, because the weight of the month made it seem like I had to find something hugely important to talk about.

Then I thought about it a bit more, and I can't think of anything more hugely important than Emma herself.

Autism awareness and acceptance both start at home. If I don't get it, if I can't love Emma for who she is, how can I expect that from someone else?

She is ridiculously easy to love. Sweet spirit, beaming grin, light-up-your-day laugh: she's got them all. That part doesn't need my help. To know her is to love her at least a little, and I don't think I'm exaggerating. Much.

It took some time to get to the place I am, where every milestone gets a standing ovation. Even -- or especially -- the ones that aren't at the top of the Things Hoped For list.

Speech and potty-training duel for pride of place on that list. And I get it. I was there. I was the mom filling out paperwork before Em started full-time ABA, thinking about the gains I knew she'd make.

No more diapers. Full sentences.

It was my list, too. I wanted those things for her -- I still do. But that was about my idea of what progress looked like, leaps forward that would make my role easier.

For the past 10 months, I've been going to parent meetings every six weeks, getting a fact-filled report on what Emma's doing every day. How she's growing every day. How hard she tries ... every single day. I'm the only one there, soaking in all that information, looking at the columns and lists and pages of things Emma's mastered.

And so I get it when someone asks if we're still buying diapers. I understand the sympathetic grimace when your "is she talking more?" is answered with me see-sawing my hand.

But I know that you'll agree with me when I tell you that Emma herself is not less because of her autism. So go with me on this one, too: her progress doesn't mean one bit less because it doesn't look how we expected it to. It's there. She is leaping and bounding forward, and it's kind of a thrill to watch it happen. It makes me want to pick up a set of pom-poms and just follow her around all day, cheering her hard work and its rewards.

Get a set of your own. Cheer with me. Things like this are happening:

posted on Facebook, March 12:

"Yesterday, at Target, Em was in the cart with a huge smile on her face. She kept repeating a word, and I leaned in to listen so I could catch it.

So glad I did.

Over and over, she was saying, 'Happy.'

It's not extraordinary that she was experiencing that emotion. But she recognized it. Labeled it. Verbalized it. And that is progress. Beautiful, extraordinary progress. She's not the only one who's happy."

Last year, I made my first (and man, do I hope my only) television appearance to talk about finally having ABA centers in the area. Today I went to a meeting to talk about what ABA has meant to Em and to me, in hopes that a lot more kids will have access.

Pom-poms for everyone.