Thanksgiving for our family is so much more than just the food

This guest post is by Shelley Neustupa, mother of two amazing boys. She and her husband Brad took some time to reflect on their first year after their youngest son's autism diagnosis.


I recently was approached by Autism Speaks to write an article and share what I am thankful for.  I took a few weeks to really give this some thought.  All of these things kept popping in my head but there was not just one that was stronger than the other. Imagine your family telling you that you are going to host Thanksgiving dinner at your home but all you are going to serve is the Lime Jell-O salad. 

It would not be complete unless you were serving the Thanksgiving traditional meal, including a herb roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, perfect turkey gravy, green bean casserole, brown sugar buttered glazed carrots, homemade cranberry sauce, sausage and sage stuffing, all topped off with an assortment of homemade pies.  Now that you are probably hungry, the point is, I am thankful for a lot.  Thanksgiving is more than just the food.  It’s a holiday when families gather together, share fellowship and their blessings, enjoy parades and watch American football.  It’s more about the shared experience than just the Lime Jell-O salad.  

As I gave this question thought, I realized, I am truly too blessed to be stressed.  So, here is what I am thankful for during my first year after Cody River’s diagnosis…

1.     My Amazing Cody Rivers

Why?  In 11 months, he has attended 178 sessions of ABA, Speech and Occupational Therapy.  His constant affectious smile never leaves his face even with the countless hours he has completed. His progress increases and he makes me incredibly proud every day.     

2.     Cody’s Biggest Fan

Why?  Cody’s biggest fan is his big brother!  There is a bond between them that is unexplainable.  Cameron is a big part of his therapy every day and his newest thing before bedtime is to hang out in brothers’ room and re-arrange his trophies.  If he asks for “sugars” he will lean his head in for his brother to give him a kiss.    

3.     My Mom’s Favorite Son-in-Law (This is an inside joke as he is her only son-in-law)

Why?  My husband and I committed to being the best advocate for our Cody Rivers – Learning more about his unique needs and abilities along with reaching out for support has enabled us to be a better family to our boys and better partners for each other on this journey. 

4.     My Family

Why?  Unconditional love and support.  We constantly find ourselves always looking for the positive from the progress we see with Cody and our family reminds us at every moment, “small steps every day.”  And the times we get down, they quickly help us back up remembering the progress from one time frame compared to another time frame.  

5.     My Extended Family, Friends and Neighbors

Why?  They ask questions, check in on us and intrigued about Cody’s progress.  I can post a photo of Cody wearing a Batman cape, and next thing I know, my neighbor sends him with a Batman figurine.  My friends and their friends all over the US supported Cody during the Autism Awareness Month and shined a blue light at their home honoring him.       

6.     Autism Speaks

Why? I believe the first rule of autism is to talk about autism.  Autism Speaks has given me those tools to share with our family.  When Cody was first diagnosed, we sent them a letter along with the 100 Day Kit for newly diagnosed families of children with autism.

7.     CR’s Therapists

Why?  I've watched patient therapists capture my son's attention and work so diligently, week after week, to elicit even a vowel sound from him.

8.     My Job (#CamdenGood)

Why?  I work for a company that believes in a work/family balance and believes in me. It is just another reason why Camden is a Great Place to Work!

9.     Families Living with Autism

Why?   I've been blessed with all the friendships that I have made through Cody’s journey.  We have come very close and continue to stay connected through a forum on social media even when we take different paths with therapies.   

10.  The Little Things

Why?   Writing fuels my strength for our Amazing CR.  Writing is like an invisible cape that makes me feel powerful, hopeful and strong for our family…’s a little thing but I am thankful for it.  

Sometime this Thanksgiving or in the coming weeks, you and yours will probably share notes on the things for which you’re thankful.  Perhaps you’ll take the basic approach, where everyone at the table mentions one thing. Or you’ll ask everyone to write an affirming note of some sort on every guest’s place card. Or distribute a pre-meal questionnaire. After a few tears and belly laughs, reflect on all that you are thankful for and you will see it’s much more than just Lime Jell-O salad.

Autism Speaks does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties. The views and opinions expressed in blogs on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of Autism Speaks.