Motherhood: Finding Their Joy…and Yours

My mother always told me, “Motherhood is not for wimps.” No truer words can be spoken for any parent of a child on the spectrum.

Motherhood: Finding Their Joy…and Yours

What keeps us going are the day to day and sometimes the moment to moment joys. As parents, watching our autistic children succeed or be valued for their contribution to this world are moments that melt this mom’s heart. Often we have to find new and unique ways to help them find their joys and their successes. When we do, it is a feeling like they just reached the summit of Mt. Everest and we watched every step.

I like to think that I have helped my son find those joys–or at least try and put his visions of joy into the planning and decision making that I do. Like many on the spectrum, he grew up knowing everything there was to know about dinosaurs, and that passion continued into adulthood. As a young boy, I included a day outing at a dig site on a few vacations, where he was always welcome to lay in the dirt with a dental pic and toothbrush.

That passion and learning turned to fishing, and so on his own with encouragement from my father, he taught himself how to fish, how to clean a fish–even though he doesn’t like to eat most of them! Oh how he loves to fish, I think he lives to fish! When my career moved us to Lower Alabama, I had a priority that he would be able to walk to the beach to fish. The fishing stories he can tell–and all of them are true, including the record 50-pound Redfish that was 45 inches long!

My favorite story, but only years later was it funny, was the morning I received a call at work and he was on the beach and had caught a shark! Trying not to panic, I told him to cut the line. But he so wanted that shark, and then the phone went dead. That night, when I opened the freezer to see what I would make for dinner, I was face to face with a smaller version – but just as lethal looking, set of JAWS!  I am amazed at his stamina when pursuing his passions. My guess is that is because he has found his joy at that moment.

As he learned to embrace his life on the spectrum, he has had much to offer others and gains back ten-fold what he gives. My son made his first true friend three years ago, at the day program for exceptional adults that he attends. What a joy they are for each other. He met his first girlfriend and had his first date, who is also a participant at this amazing day program.

Relationships are tough for those on the spectrum, but these relationships are a tribute to the courage to care for another and to love. My joy from his participation in this day program is not only seeing his successes but also meeting wonderful parents who have found joy in seeing their children succeed in this environment. And don’t for a minute think that he was happy with me that I required him to attend this program. But now, it is an integral part of his life.

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My son loves sports, but as we all have experienced, he wasn’t picked for teams in school. He knows the stats, the plays and the names of every player in college football, baseball, and basketball. He is a loyal fan and struggles greatly when his favorite teams lose. Finding Special Olympics has changed his life–he thrives on the competition, he loves to practice, and he has learned valuable behaviors on being a member of a team.

Special Olympics has given him opportunities to compete in basketball, baseball, track and field, and even power lifting!  This year he is so excited as he has been training to compete in cycling–and when there was no coach in the area for the event, he asked our neighbor to be his coach!  Imagine my surprise when he finished his first training race–and it was 30 miles long!  I never imagined my son would wear medals, let alone five in one year. Oh, the joy!

My son never sang much, unlike his siblings. He tried instruments without much success. But then one day, the director of our church choir came up to him and invited him to come to rehearsals and to sing each week with the choir. They sorely lacked men in the choir, so my guess was they hoped he could sing.

And sing he can, I never knew that the deep bass notes on a piano could actually be sung.  I wonder when I listen if those notes come from his toes!  He now sings solos, and while that is a very difficult task for him, the joy of acceptance and inclusion that our tiny church choir has given him and me is profound.

His most recent joy is one that touches my heart the most. My son was selected on his merit for the Junior Board for the Autism Society of Alabama. His voice is now heard in support for autism services for our state.  At the recent State Conference on Autism, held on the campus of his favorite sport team, he spent most of his time helping out at the booth, rather than walking around the campus that he had never seen before.

This was his choice, but a real sacrifice as the stadium was literally a block away! Last year I found my joy too. I was nominated and appointed by the Governor to the Alabama Regional Autism Network. My joy is multiplied by his involvement and advocacy for others on the spectrum–and we now have something we share joyfully together.

If you can help your autistic child find their joys, no matter how small, you will also find yours.  I’m not the best mom.  I make lots of mistakes. But I will never give up, and I think I have taught all of my children to embrace that life philosophy. My daddy never let me quit. My children were raised the same.

One might read this and think, “her son must be high functioning, my child can’t accomplish those kinds of successes.” But you would be wrong. Find your child’s joy, and they are a success! Never give up, I know it is exhausting. But after all, motherhood is not for wimps.

This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power

Melanie Shong Helm

    Melanie Shong Helm

    Melanie Shong Helm, CCEP, is a singlemother of three successful and loving adults. Melanie’s dream is to advocate for the building of safe group homes for autistic adults that she hopes to call Spectrum Home. She wants the residents to have a day program to go to each day like her son does now and find part-time work in a community that embraces diversity and inclusion. Melanie has spent her career in human resources as a senior manager, where she is often seen advocating for diversity and inclusion for all employees as a Certified Ethics and Compliance Professional.