A Mother's Open Letter to Her Daughter with Autism On Her Twelfth Birthday

Dear Debbie,  

I can’t believe that you are almost twelve. I remember when I was pregnant with you and I would daydream about our relationship, our conversations – even our arguments and squabbles. I always knew that you had autism, even before I was ready to admit it. You didn’t move around in my stomach as much as your brother and I worried that there might be something wrong with you. When you were a baby you “failed to thrive” at the age of six weeks; you had colic and then you started missing milestone after milestone. I watched my dreams of a “normal” mother-daughter relationship disappear.

It wasn’t that I loved you any less though. Quite the opposite, in fact. My love for you was strong and fierce. It was the “A” word that threw me for a loop. I knew very little about autism and I saw a lifetime of can’ts, doesn’ts, and won’ts. I must admit, I wallowed in self-pity for what seemed like a lifetime. Luckily, your dad pointed out to me that if I didn’t pull myself together, I was going to fail at the most important job in my life – being your mother.

Failure was not an option. So I pulled myself together and started to learn about autism and about you. You have been an amazing teacher to me. Are you surprised? Don’t be. The beautiful thing about our relationship is that we teach each other. While I have taught you many different skills, you have taught me about life.

Before you came along, I took many things for granted; things that come naturally to many people. I never gave walking, talking, and being social with others a second thought until you struggled with those very things. All of a sudden what used to be so unimportant became extremely important. And when you met some of those milestones, I celebrated each of them as if you had finished first in a marathon. And after the marathon was over, I realized that I shouldn’t have doubted you in the first place!  

We’ve had to make adjustments along the way to help you succeed in life. You have taught me how to be flexible and you have taught me how to readjust to make things work for all of us. You have taught me to look at things from other perspectives instead of just my own and you have taught me that it is okay to get off the highway and take the scenic route.  

Our relationship is special and invaluable. We don’t talk about your friends at school. We don’t talk about the cute boy in your English class. On the other hand, you tell me about what you like to wear and don’t like to wear. You tell me if you like a song or if I need to turn the radio to a different station. You watch me put on make-up and then want to do the same. You have opinions, and you are not afraid to share them with me, even when if it means we argue! You taught me that “normal is just a setting on the dryer,” as the saying goes.

I’m sorry that at one point in life I only saw a label that said, “you can’t and won’t succeed,” instead of seeing a person who can and will. I am convinced now that even though we have to take a detour to get there, you will be successful in life. Thank you for helping me grow. Thank you for teaching me that there are ways around barriers. Thank you for being you. I am so glad I’m your mom.

Happy twelfth birthday, Debbie! I love you more than words!

Love,

~Mom

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