This post is by Tara Blum, a mother of a daughter on the autism spectrum who is walking for Philadelphia’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks on November 2nd.
My daughter Mia was diagnosed with Autism at 19 months of age. She had no language, made no eye contact, and she rarely smiled. Her play consisted of banging two toys together. Developmentally, she was at the level of an 8 month old. Hearing the words, your daughter has Autism, was one of the hardest moments of my entire life. As a parent, we want to see our children be happy, thrive, succeed, and develop meaningful relationships with others. Would she be able to go to dance class or have Princess Tea Parties? Would she have the skills to simply play with other children? Would she ever be able to communicate with those around her? I did not know what was in store for my beautiful daughter.
Since the Autism diagnosis, my life has been dedicated to getting her the help she needs to make it in this very tough world! All of those dreams I had for her had to be put on hold. For 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week, Mia worked tirelessly with an amazing group of therapists who have taught her how to play, imitate, follow directions, communicate, and most importantly, enjoy her little world. At the time, I still wanted some sense of normalcy for her. I had enrolled her in preschool, even though she couldn’t talk.
At Back to School Night, the teacher spoke at length about how they were trying to facilitate language and communication with the children. Everything seemed to revolve around language. They shared stories about conversations the children had with one another. I knew Mia wasn’t a part of those conversations. The teacher then passed around pictures each child drew with a word they used to describe their artwork. Mia’s was blank. I was devastated. The day I pulled her out of her typical preschool, and into a special language program, I realized that what I wanted so desperately for her at that moment was maybe not the best for her. We had to take a step back in order to move forward. It was the best decision I could have ever made for my daughter.
The day she said her name for the first time at 3 years old, I cried tears of joy. I put it on video and sent it to everyone I knew. This past June, she performed in front of hundreds of people in her first dance recital as the Itsy Bitsy Spider. She is still in her language program, but she is also in preschool where she has a lot of friends. She continues to have hours of therapy everyday, but she loves it and is a happy and well-adjusted little girl. And today, she said to me in the car, “Everybody loves me because I am so cute!” Yes you are, my sweet girl.
Now it is time for us to give back. I am walking on November 2nd in Philadelphia for Autism Speaks. I couldn’t imagine a better way of honoring my amazing daughter.