This April, a mom reflects on how her son's diagnosis helped her celebrate his strengths
By Geege Taylor | April 15, 2019
Geege Taylor is an author and an autism advocate who is passionate about challenging the negative perceptions of those living with disabilities. She lives in Georgia with her 16 year old son, Ainsworth, who has autism but nevertheless manages to be a total baller, her 21 year old daughter and her pooch, Oliver. To follow the hilarious adventures of her son, follow her on Instagram. Her YouTube channel Planet Poot will premiere tonight.
My son, “Pootie” is sixteen, non-verbal, and totally thrives with autism. In the early days, I would have never dreamed that his disability would lead me to my happiest life. ‘Autism Awareness Month’ should actually be changed to ‘Autism Celebration Month’ in my opinion. It took a minute for me to get to this place, however. The first years were filled with navigating the unknown and needing ten times the energy of the average parent, yet operating on ten times less sleep, as my son had chronic insomnia and needed care 24/7. At eighteen months, a team evaluated Pootie and saw a load of red flags for autism (however, they weren’t doctors who could make a formal diagnosis.) He immediately qualified for every therapy that the agency offered. In one meeting, the course of my life had forever changed. I went to bed, buried myself under the comforters, and cried until there was nothing left. I mourned the loss of who I thought Pootie was supposed to be. He would never work at his father’s firm, never give me grandchildren, and would probably never live independently. It was a bitter pill to swallow. After forty-eight hours of sobbing, I pulled myself from the cocoon that I had made and paid attention to the mirror. Janis Joplin was staring back at me. I looked like I had been hit by a truck. I had to get myself together as my mother was bringing the children back home to me.
I walked into the den to find my beautiful son crawling on the floor. He was short, dark and handsome…with dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin. He looked like a baby Elvis. His face lit up when he saw me. I immediately felt guilty that I had grieved for those two days. My son was alive, healthy, and standing right in front of me— needing his mommy to accept him for exactly who he was, no matter what the outcome. In that moment, I vowed to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I gave myself pep-talks along the way…“Never look back, only look up… Think like a winner; you can do this better than anyone…Don’t question ‘Why?’ Instead ask, ‘Why not?’” After all, it was an honor to be this child’s mommy.
Pootie was formally diagnosed a few months later. The doctor determined that he had autism within the first five minutes of observation, as his challenges were very severe. The years that followed were filled with early intervention, therapies, doctors’ appointments, and special schooling. Despite all of the advantages that he had been given, Pootie did not seem to progress much with his challenges. Yet another tough pill to swallow. I entertained various scenarios that seemed unbearable—What if he never learned to talk? What if he remained the lowest functioning in the entire county’s school system? What if he needed assistance with practically everything? With time, all of those ‘What if’s?’ proved to be true.
I felt myself spiraling into a depression from the anxiety. So, in an attempt to preserve my sanity, I decided to place my focus on what autism gave our family instead of what society imagined that it might take away—because if you haven’t figured it out by now, happiness is indeed a choice that we make. Celebrating Pootie for exactly who he was became a stress-reliever. This level of acceptance also made Pootie extraordinarily happy and confident. I have been blessed with a very affectionate child, but I don’t think it’s been a total accident. Pootie is the product of positivity, unconditional love, and total acceptance. He deserves that like everyone else. He doesn’t only deserve that if he behaves “normally.”
I’ve met a few autism parents who are angst-ridden because they’re constantly focused on the fact that their lives aren’t like every other boring person's walking down the street. Some of them seem to pity me as well because Pootie is more challenged than their children. I hate their pity. Pootie is the light of our lives. Yes, caring for someone with special needs can be hard work—It is parenting 2.0—you’re going to work a bit harder, but the rewards can be even greater.
Once we really started focusing on the joys of autism, we were able to sit back and enjoy our lives more than ever before…Pootie royally entertained us by the way he saw the world…He rode his therapy horse backwards. He ate pine straw whenever he went outside. He galloped sideways instead of running straight. He took ten minutes to eat a single M&M. He ran in place outside whenever it rained (and insisted on doing this while holding a tennis racket for some unknown reason). He tried to sleep between the mattress and box springs every night. He wanted to wear my Spanx because he liked the squeeze. He laughed all day while staring at the palm of his hand. He swiped food off of stranger’s plates at restaurants. He constantly made “Ehhhhh-Ehhhhhh” noises, prompting multiple neighbors and passers-by to ask if we owned a goat…I could list a million more.
Pootie’s take on life began to actually make some sense to me when I analyzed it. A perfect example would be his feelings about Halloween. For Pootie, Halloween involves getting into a scratchy costume, going out into the freezing cold, dark night, and being forced to interact with strangers just for a piece of discount candy. I began to think more literally like he did…why on earth would anyone ever dress up like a duck and take candy from a stranger in the dark? Many times, Pootie’s perspective was spot on.
In keeping with the celebration of autism awareness, I’d like to send a message to my little masterpiece…
“Pootie, My perspectives on life have changed immensely because of you. We are all far better humans for knowing you. I thank God each day that he gave you to our family…we hit the jackpot. I am infinitely proud of you and can not thank you enough for your gifts of love and autism. It is a privilege to call you my son. Love, Mommy.”