This post was shared with us by Janina Freeland, a mom to a daughter with autism. The story was originally shared in Women's Running magazine. Do you enjoy running? Join us and participate in a Team Up! With Autism Speaks 5K, 10K, half marathon, or more! Find an event near you here!
Everyone says when you have your first child, everything changes. Your life goes from only worrying about yourself to taking care of another human being. Most of us think about what our child will be like, what their first word will be, and how they will be as an adult. I lived in this typical world until I heard the words “Your daughter has autism.”
Autism was a new word for me. My daughter was only 2 years old when my husband and I heard this news. What does that mean? Can we cure it? How can we “fix it?” I felt lost, alone, and helpless. The doctor said, “With good therapy she can overcome some obstacles but it is uncertain what her functioning level will be.”
As I walked out of the office, I felt like the road my life had been on was turned onto a different path—a scary path of unfamiliarity. I did not know how to process this information or where to even begin. There is so much to do at the beginning of an autism diagnosis. A lot of appointments have to be made, and there was limited time to do all that would need to be done. My daughter Ava was nonverbal and aggressive. I needed a lot of help and felt very overwhelmed most days with the therapies added to living a day-to-day life. I was also working full time as a first grade teacher. Life as I knew it had changed, and there was nothing I could do about it but walk down my new path. I felt angry and cheated. The world and people around me seemed to change. I didn’t want to be around people and their “typical” kids.
There is one day I will never forget. That day was my first run with Ava. My husband worked weekends because Ava’s medical bills became too much. When he worked, I would try all the tactics the therapist suggested for interacting with Ava at home. It was often difficult to take her places because she became so anxious in overstimulating environments, so most times I would have to leave before finishing what I’d hoped to do.
One day I was in the house desperately trying to play or find some way to interact with Ava when I realized, I needed to find MY connection with her. I read all these autism books with stories of other parents who found their connection with their child. Here I am trying to copy what their experience was when I really needed to find my own connection with her. I put on my running shoes and threw her stroller in the back of the car. At this time, she was 3 years old. I drove to my favorite running trail and put her in the stroller with a book she enjoyed looking through. I started my run. Now, the stroller was just a normal stroller, not a jogging stroller, so it was like pushing a tank.