Raising an Autism Warrior
By Marlene Tavares | Published on August 13, 2020 | 5 Minute Read
As a teacher with background experience working as an ECA in childcare, I was exposed many times to working with children with special needs. All my young, naive self could think at the time was "wow. Those poor parents! How do they do it?" Never did I imagine that one day; I too would become part of the Special Needs parenting community.
My daughter Leila was diagnosed with moderate to severe Autism when she was only 2 years old. All the red flags were there including speech delay, lack of eye contact, not responding to her name and stimming. We started Leila in ABA therapy immediately. Now 6, Leila has come a long way since then thanks to all her wonderful therapists. But it has been a long, difficult journey for both Leila and us (her parents) and we are only just beginning. Leila loves books, puzzles, and art. Despite the many challenges Leila faces every day, including verbal communication and social skills, Leila is a very intelligent, independent, and enthusiastic little girl. Despite these challenges, Leila does not shy away from trying new things and is always willing to take on a new hobby. At first, I was so afraid for Leila’s future and whether or not she would become independent and do things for herself. Her lack of verbal communication scared me the most. Today I realize that there is so much more to determining Leila’s success than just whether or not she can speak or socialize. She shows us everyday how brave and talented she is. I admire her so much for how fearless she is in trying new things and taking chances. She is above all, confident. I do everything I can to encourage her confidence and I hope she never loses that.
Being a special needs parent has really taken its toll on me mentally and emotionally. I went through a very difficult and dark time after Leila’s diagnosis with stress, anxiety, and depression. I spent countless hours researching on the internet and spent days and nights losing sleep and crying. I realized that if I was going to be strong for my daughter and be the best advocate I could be for her then I was going to need to take care of myself first. My best forms of self-care came from taking an hour a day to myself so I can work out and work on my physical health, which in turn also helped me with my mental health. I started feeling stronger, more confident, and more energetic. Self-care is so important because it allowed me the time I needed to refocus and re-energize so that I could be ready to tackle whatever challenge came my way. I also wanted to make sure my daughter saw me as a positive and happy person and not an unhappy, stressed out, and depressed one. If I could give one piece of advice to other special needs parents it would be this – take care of yourself so you can be the best advocate and the best example for your children to watch growing up.
"If you are an Autism parent, like me, please do not underestimate how strong you are and how powerful your voice and your presence is. You have been gifted with this responsibility because you can handle it."
Autism is such a broad spectrum. It is also very misunderstood. People have the misconception that all autistic individuals act the same way and this is far from true. We have a saying in the autism community: “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” This means that like everyone else, individuals with autism are all unique with their own strengths, preferences, and challenges. We need to celebrate these differences and understand that individuals with autism are very intelligent and capable people just like anyone else, they just require a little extra guidance, support, and time to navigate in the same fast-paced world the rest of us are accustomed to.
Since becoming an Autism mom, spreading awareness and advocating for my daughter has become my new life mission. I am literally my daughter’s voice. I take my job as her advocate very seriously. It is a very difficult job and not for the faint at heart. If you are an Autism parent like me please do not underestimate how strong you are and how powerful your voice and your presence is. You have been gifted with this responsibility because you can handle it. I used to think the opposite. I used to play victim for having a special needs child. Today I realize I am actually one of the lucky ones. My daughter amazes me and the rest of the world everyday with how smart and strong she is. One day, she too will become an advocate for others like herself. We are not just raising children with autism here – we are raising warriors.
I use my social media platform as my stage to speak for and about my daughter and autism in general. You can follow along on Leila’s journey on our Instagram page @life_by_leila or you can connect with me on my own Instagram page @m.tavares 23.
About the Author
I am a Certified Teacher, proud Autism mom, and Fitness enthusiast. I enjoy taking road trips, spending time with my family, watching movies, and drinking coffee. I am also a newly Certified Life Coach and I love to empower and inspire others any way I can.