During April 2011 I participated in an Autism Gratitude Project with 115 other ASD parents on Facebook.
Every day during Autism Awareness Month we posted something we were grateful about directly because of Autism affecting our lives as our status.
The idea was to shine a positive light on our lives of difference and to help raise awareness for the issues our families and loved ones face living with an ASD diagnosis. There are so many reasons and occasions to feel anything but grateful on some days particularly in the thick of a very large public meltdown when many judgemental or even pitying (which I find worse) eyes are on you and/or your distraught child but as I've eased into the role of autism mummy and autism advocate I've become very aware of how much I do indeed have to be grateful for. This was a gradual process.
I didn't always feel grateful nor did I always embrace autism as something I wouldn't change if given the chance. These days I accept it whole heartedly as part of my life and I love my life for the most part. It's way too hard to imagine a different life for me that was not touched by special needs now. I don't wish things to be different for us. I wish the world was easier for my children. Perhaps by raising awareness through finding gratitude, in some small way the world will be easier for them.
I do admit to being a tad skeptical at the beginning of the Gratitude Project though that I could find one thing EVERY day of the month to be grateful for because of autism. However, as the month ticked over I found myself posting several times a day. It became easy but wasn't at first. It took a lot of self assessment and looking within.
Some things were tongue in cheek, some fun, some very emotional and few that were emotive in response from others.
Now that the end of the project is here, upon reflection, I think that if I hadn't been thrown onto this rollercoaster with no end (EVER), it may have never occured to me that a feeling of gratitude is not always a given and is instead sometimes project worthy to help learn how to see things differently.
The gratitude project helped many of us participating learn more about ourselves whilst also hopefully helping fellow parents to find the acceptance that takes some time to get to post diagnosis.
As it's the final day of this project and Autism Awareness Month is drawing to a close I am finishing it with an open letter to my sons so they know how truly grateful I really am that my life is exactly as it is:
Dear beautiful boys,
I am grateful for you, to you and because of you every minute of every day.
I weep for you, cheer for you, stand up for you, fight for you, love you and LIVE for you every day.
I am grateful that you are exactly the YOU that you are.
Once upon a time I could not have fathomed that I would be grateful for any difficulties you would face. Today I am grateful for exactly that. I still nurse a wound in my heart for you that reminds me of where we've been and that although we might have come a long way, we have further to go. The difficulties might hurt us but we are strong. We've only become stronger since facing them head on too so I know deep deep down inside my wounded heart that we can travel this journey together. Our journey might be a little trickier and slower than others' journeys but we WILL get there... Wherever THERE may be for US.
I am grateful for your voice and chatter that I was once frightened I wouldn't hear. I am grateful for the open hearted love I was once ignorantly scared I'd never feel from you that you now so regularly bestow upon me through affection, cuddles and requests to pick you up and carry you. I am grateful for the invitations into your games I was once terrified I would never see or participate in.
I am grateful I experience life through your eyes and now see things I'd never have noticed if not for your eye for details I don't usually notice.
I am grateful for the pride I am consumed with when you beat the odds and conquer your anxious moments. I am grateful I appreciate the little things because I was once worried the little things would not exist for us. I am grateful the big things exist for us too.... Imagine my gratitude when little things and baby steps transitioned into big things and giant leaps and bounds.
I am grateful for the people you have brought into our life. These are the same people I so resented in the early days because of my own vanity. I resented them because of the ugly pride I nursed and clung to even though the pride was dented. I am now grateful for needing to reach out for help. The help that took my outreached hands and broken heart taught me more about myself in three years than I could have learned in a lifetime if I'd never needed to reach out in the first place. I am grateful for the community of people and friends we now think of as part of our team. Many became part of our family. I am grateful that because of our team, we are rarely lonely. I am grateful we are loved, understood and cheered on by our team. Our team keeps me propped up enough to cheer you on. I am so grateful I get to cheer you on.
I am grateful I was limited in my own choices in order to expand yours. Oh how grateful I am that I had no other choice than to abandon being anywhere but with you for every moment we've shared on our way to where we are. I am grateful for every one of those moments no matter how many of them were hard, no matter how many of them I cried and no matter how many of them were filled with fear. For every moment I may have felt trapped at first and for every moment I lamented that your opportunities may be limited as you grow up, I had many many more moments filled with the joy of you growing up before my very eyes whilst I watched with all consuming love. I am grateful I experienced these moments of joy for they far outweighed the moments of hardship.
I am grateful that you taught me true patience. I can wait until the end of eternity if I am waiting for you. I used to hurtle through life on the fast train, always wanting to get to the next step, the next place and go further.... You taught me to slow down for you. You taught me to slow down for me. Thank you for teaching me to enjoy the view on the way to wherever we are going. I am so grateful.
I am grateful that I have gave you the foundation of my presence in the absence of riches or posessions. I am grateful I got to build you bricks of love, time and kisses that make you feel better when hurt in the absence of bricks and mortar of our own.
I am grateful I have heard the divinity of your giggles and great big belly laughs more than I have heard the hell of your tears or pain. I am grateful to have had moments where time stands still for me and I truly feel us sharing a connection I was once bereftly yearning for. I am grateful I have laughed WITH you. I am grateful that I understand the significance of you looking deeply into my eyes and the agonising level of trust in me you need in that moment, so hard for you to do otherwise. I vow to you that I will never take for granted that trust you have in me.
I am grateful that you love me...... And oh so very grateful you have told me.
I am grateful you have made me who I am. I am grateful for the opportunity to fight for you every step of the way because you helped me find my calling. I was born to be your mother. I was born to fight for you. Never has there been a more true purpose in my life than to be the mother YOU need me to be. I am the best me I can be because I want your best you to be proud of my best me.
So my babies. My sons. My loves. My life........
I am grateful for YOU!
I will love you forever.