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10 Things I've Learned as an Autism Mom

This is a post by Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, mother to two sons on the autism spectrum and an Autism Family Partner at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). CHOP is an Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network site. Kim is also the author of a blog about her two children with autism at

Eleven years ago my husband and I entered a developmental pediatrician’s office with our then 17-month-old son, Justin.  We were both nervous and resigned, anticipating, and in some ways welcoming, the autism diagnosis we were sure our boy would merit.  Four years later we would retrace our steps in a different state with our second son, Zach. On this occasion we were much less scared, even eager to get a diagnosis to help us to access services.  It wasn’t that we were less concerned about the progress of our second child.  It’s just that by then we’d been doing the “autism gig” for the length of a presidential term, and we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. 

Those four years had taught me indelibly what it means to be a special needs mom.

I learned so much from my eldest child, and then again from my youngest. I learned about my limits, and how to stretch them to accommodate my children’s needs.  I learned about the endless boundaries of love, and how to summon patience I didn’t know I had. I learned so much, knowledge I wish I’d had at my fingertips when my first child was diagnosed.

If I could go back in time, these are the ten things I’d tell myself about my impending journey of parenting two children on the autism spectrum: 

  1. You will revel in even the smallest increments of progress, progress you would not have noticed if your children were nuerotypical.
  2. You will learn to always push your children to do a little bit more than you think they can.
  3. You will learn how to be flexible (this one remains a challenge for me.)
  4. You will worry about what happens to them when you’re gone.  This one you will never conquer.
  5. You will irrevocably alter your definition of what comprises a successful childhood.
  6. You will learn how to ask for help (this one remains a challenge too.)
  7. You will learn how to listen, really listen, both to your one son’s vocal attempts and to your other’s complete sentences.
  8. You will learn, through lots of practice, how to be patient.
  9. You will learn that the inability to speak does not mean your son does not have a lot to say.
  10. You will learn, perhaps most importantly, to make time for yourself.

Watch Kim's family's story and learn about the progress her boys have made below:

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.