At almost three years old he is so sweet. He is lovable, so full of hugs and kisses. He laughs, plays, jumps, dances and loves life. He is a very happy little boy.

I was certain prior to his most recent evaluation that he had grown by leaps and bounds. A small part of me hoped he had “outgrown” Autism, and the news would be wonderful. I see so much progress in him every day – doing new things and saying new words.  So when the evaluation concluded I was devastated to find he hadn’t grown as much as I had anticipated. Shame on me.

At 18 months old he was only developed to about 5 months in all areas except gross motor skills. Hearing the word “Autism” broke my heart and sent me in a tailspin. I cried for days. My husband did a great job at defining how “different” he is, and how that makes him special. I tried to accept it and worked with him very hard over the past year to teach him and help him grow. It did pay off; he has surpassed his age in two areas. His visual testing soared up to where a four year old should be. Oh I was so proud!

However, his social and language are still severely delayed, at the bottom of the scoring scale. If the score could have been lower, it would have.

What I have managed to do in my own attempt at “accepting” his diagnoses was to learn how to live with it. My husband and I have altered our lifestyle to fit him into it, and it has worked perfectly. We have our own little system here when it comes to him – all of us, my other children included. That is where the biggest let down came.

While I know him and know how to communicate with him, and know where his weaknesses are, others are not as fortunate. When a stranger comes in and tries to work with him, it becomes very apparent to them that the things he does, which to us seem “normal,” are not.

During this one hour assessment, I watched as my little guy slowly disengaged and began to melt down. There were obvious steps he was taking to cope, but nothing was working for him. By the end of the assessment, he was so overstimulated it resulted in tantruming, kicking and screaming. He was angry and hostile, overwhelmed, and so emotional. By the time it was done he was gone, hiding in his own world, desperately wanting his own downtime.

I put him in his crib, his safe place, and he laid there for almost three hours, quietly unwinding by himself. He was happy there. When he was two months old I learned of his preference to be in his crib over someones arms. It was the first sign that he was a little different. Still to this day, that is his only comfort when his world is too much to handle.

While he was unwinding in his crib the woman began applauding my efforts to help him learn and grow, I began crying because I knew there was a “but” coming my way. I was proud of my efforts as well, and welcomed the compliments. However, I was still stunned and brought to tears when she said “he is still severely delayed, let me tell you how.”

Things they noticed that I had known of but had not associated with Autism really blindsided me. During the evaluation, he started hugging me repeatedly, climbed in my lap for snuggles and for me to rock him, spinning in circles staring at the ground, and ignoring their requests. These all seem like very normal behaviors because I am used to them, and had not really considered them as being a part of the Autism diagnoses.

As they went on and on about all of his difficulties, inside I was breaking. I knew at that moment I had never completely accepted and embraced his diagnoses. A small part of my heart had hoped he was just a little bit slower than “average” children, or that he was just “picky” or that he was just different.

Shame on me.

After they left, I sat on the couch and cried for what felt like forever. How could I have been so stubborn? How could I have been so blind? How could I not see all of these things that they were able to see?

My son has Autism. He is very high functioning, and incredibly smart. However, he still has Autism.

I can’t hide from it anymore. I am so proud of my little guy and find joy in the smallest things he does, and in every new word he says and every new thing he learns I am more proud.

I have learned the beauty of “different” and how it can be challenging, heartbreaking and rewarding all in the same breath. He makes me proud, and when he is overwhelmed and he comes over and hugs me so tight I can’t breathe, I will squeeze him back – and he smiles. When he gets overwhelmed, I will still put him in his safe place, his crib. When he can’t handle strange places, I will take him home. I will continue to adjust my life so that his life is easier to live, but now it is time to adjust my way of thinking.

I will support Autism awareness, so that mom’s like me don’t have to pray that their child is misdiagnosed, or that their child will “outgrow” their diagnoses, only to find shame and heartbreak when Autism does not just “go away.”

Shame on me. I should have been a better mother. I suppose today is not too late to start. Better a little late, then never at all.

Three year old boy photo available from Shutterstock.