Since I could remember, I was a sucker for any inspirational movie, sport stars with an inspirational success story behind them, stories of people that overcame great barriers in life to be successful, in fact I still am. I always wrote inspirational quotes and my favourite Bible verses in my diary and would read it over and over again to inspire myself in whatever I took on in life. But there is one quote I read in a book by Randy Pausch’s “The last lecture” that kind of stuck with me: “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” No matter what life throws at you, you always have a choice with regards to how you are going to deal with it. The power lies within you!
I was fortunate to have grown up in a home with a super positive mom. Sometimes I could not believe how she did it, where no one in our family saw an outcome in a situation, she always smiled and stayed positive and said that we must trust God and be thankful for what we have. Her faith and positive attitude towards life pulled our family through tough times and we always came out stronger on the other side with a smile on our faces. What a great example and role model for me and my sisters. My mom taught us to be strong and courageous in everything we face in life and I will always be grateful towards her for that, because somehow, I know God blessed me with a mom like mine to prepare me for the challenges I would face being a mom.
After Gian was diagnosed with autism, I had to make a decision. Am I going to let autism define who Gian is and let his diagnosis dictate how our life would be from now on? Am I going to sob every time I see other neuro-typical kids doing normal things and wish he was like them? Will I be a victim of my circumstances? Am I going to wrap Gian in bubble wrap and keep him away from anything and anyone that could possibly hurt him? Are we going to stay at home every weekend, not going to a restaurant or visiting friends, not take him near any public place as I am afraid of what the people would think, scared that people would stare at my son doing things differently, afraid of what Gian could do wrong, what if he has a melt down? Or am I going to guide my son to be the best HE can be, to embrace every second of his life, to celebrate his small victories, to expose him to everyday life and most of all love him unconditionally and be at his side every step of the way.
Again God made it clear to me in His word: Joshua 1: 9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” So you can guess what my decision was. Deon and I chose to take Gian with us on our life’s journey, we chose to let him experience life as it is with all its ups and downs. We chose not to let autism stand in the way of our happiness, we chose to be a normal and happy family. So we took him with us everywhere, to restaurants, to visit our friends, to every birthday party we got invited to.
We took him to various different public places, we went on holidays to different places and we even took him with on an overseas holiday. We did not allow him to drift away and get stuck in his own little world. I also knew that it would not be easy….. Like I always say, God does not allow me to be in a comfort zone, but luckily, as the wise people say, the best things usually happen outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it was really difficult. It broke my heart to see kids laughing at him, people saying bad things to us in restaurants and calling me a bad mother, because he plays with the cutlery and blows out the candles on the tables. Hearing people gossip because Gian does not have shoes and a jacket on in winter. Having to explain the reason that Gian does not answer you is not because he has bad manners, or why he MUST sit on the blue chair at a birthday party and not the red one, not because he is naughty, but because of his autism, he has an obsession with the colour blue.
Most of the time I was tempted to pick him up and take him away to an isolated island, far away from this cruel world we live in. Other times I was very close to lose my temper with people that criticised my parenting skills and judged Gian. But instead, I had to be strong for the sake of my son. I decided to face all these challenges with courage and a smile on my face, give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him! His smile and “I love you mommy” makes it all worthwhile.
We also made a conscious decision not to compare him with his peers. He is Gian, our unique beautiful boy that does everything differently and at his own pace. Every time we get a breakthrough in his development, we celebrate the victory, how small it might look. For us it is not about being proud of seeing your son off to big school in his school uniform and big suitcase, receiving a medal for coming in the top three in athletics, his first try in a rugby match or finishing his star chart at school in a record time.
We are proud of him for being able to go to school, for eventually answering a question we ask him and not repeating it, for using different colours to colour in a picture, not only blue, for eating something different than Viennas and tomato sauce although it is something unhealthy like a waffle, for making friends with stranger, putting off the TV without a tantrum and go to sleep, kissing you good night and tell you he loves you.
Raising Gian teaches me every day, that God’s grace is enough for me. Autism was not the journey I chose, but I chose to deal with it in a positive way, with my knees on the ground and my eyes focused on God, and I must say, I sure do treasure and love my tour guide…!