I’ve been blogging here about autism and my children for three years now. I love writing about raising these often challenging children. It feels good and therapeutic to share these thoughts and feelings with others. It makes me happy when someone “likes” my page on Facebook or leaves a comment on one of my blog posts. It’s fun when someone contacts me for advice about their own children with autism. However, I must admit that sometimes, selfishly, I am a little disappointed that my blog hasn’t “taken off.” When I first started, I had dreams of my work being recognized and hailed by thousands of people. I fantasized about being asked to write for other websites, magazines, and maybe even getting a book deal. That would be followed by fame and fortune, of course. Then, there would be the Hollywood movie about my life, starring Reese Witherspoon as me and George Clooney as my husband. No, wait, I should portray myself. But my husband should still be portrayed by George Clooney… yes, that sounds good…
OK, maybe my dream wandered a little too far there. But seriously, I have noticed that my little autism blog does not have as many followers as some do. One of the blogs I read has over 36,000 followers on Facebook. Another has over 217,000. Why can’t I get readers like that? Is it because many of those bloggers are stay-at-home parents, and I am a working mom also pursuing a graduate degree, and therefore don’t have time to write as often as I should to be a relevant blogger? Is it because my writing isn’t nearly as interesting or funny as it seems in my head? Is it because there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of other blogs out there about autism? Is it because my children are actually doing quite well right now, so I don’t have very many challenges to write about? Is it because I am not following the current autism issues as closely as I should? Or is it because becoming successful in something like writing requires some amount of sheer luck? The answer is most likely “All of the Above.” And although it sometimes disappoints me, I’ve made peace with the fact that this little space on the internet is not going to make me rich or famous or get me a kissing scene with George Clooney. Writing is still fun and fulfilling on a personal level, so I’m going to keep doing it, when I can find the time and when something pops into my head that I want to write about.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, I met “Lisa,” and I wasn’t disappointed anymore. I had taken my guys to their swimming lesson at our local rec center. When it was over, they both came over to me, shivering and dripping all over me while demanding their towels. I sent them into the men’s locker room with their clothes and started toward the door to the women’s locker room. (This was the first time I had let them change in the locker room without an adult, and was a bit nervous about it, but my husband insisted that they have successfully changed and come out the other side of the locker room on several occasions for him.) A small voice said, “Excuse me? Have you ever given a talk at Child Find?” I turned and saw a woman I did not recognize who had just given her 5-year-old son to the swimming instructor that my guys had just left. I have never spoken at Child Find, but I have spoken to a workshop for parents of children with special needs sponsored by the Fairfax County Public Schools. And since Child Find is for preschool-aged children with developmental delays, I figured that she and I both lived in the same “special education” world. I told her that yes, I had spoken to parents of special education children, and I apologized for not recognizing her.
She assured me that we had never met in person, but that she had been to my talk and we had exchanged several emails. I don’t get a lot of email questions from people who have read my blog, but I get a few. As soon as she said her name was Lisa, I remembered writing to her. It was two years ago, and she asked a lot of questions about therapies, diets, and the county’s PAC program (Preschool Autism Class). She also expressed frustration that her son, age 3 at the time, was not making progress as fast as she had hoped. I know I advised her the way I would advise any parent – stick with the PAC program, do ABA if you can afford it, even if it’s only a little bit each week, and to be patient. I assured her that her son’s time already spent in PAC (6 months) was just a drop in the bucket of what would likely be years of therapy time, and that he would indeed make progress. It does get better. It just takes time.
During one of our email exchanges, Lisa used the phrase, “Once he catches up.” I responded with this: “I think you will drive yourself crazy if you keep telling yourself that at some point he will catch up and then you’ll be done, because that could be many years away. Of course he will make tons of progress over the years, but he may always need help with things like social skills and interacting with others. I am pretty sure mine will.” After a brief “thank you” message from Lisa, I didn’t hear from her again. “Well, good job, Mindy! You scared another one off!” I thought. I assumed I had been a little too harsh with her, a little too real. Told her something she didn’t really want to hear. I realized that, hell, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear that right after SB’s diagnosis, either. In giving my advice, I had momentarily forgotten about that early period when I couldn’t wait to just get him “fixed” so that he would be like other kids his age. I hadn’t remembered how many years it took to get me to where I am today, which is acceptance of a person will has difficulties, and will always have difficulties, but also has some incredible strengths and an amazingly charming personality that in no way do I ever want to “fix.” “This is why people don’t ask for your advice very often, Mindy,” I thought. “You’re really bad at it!”
Sitting there at the rec center on Saturday, Lisa told me how much my emails and advice had meant to her. She told me that it was very comforting to hear from another parent the assurance that her son would make progress, and that things would get better. (When I asked her if my advice had been too harsh, she said that it was not!) Then to my surprise, she started to get tears in her eyes as she told me how helpful I had been. I wanted to talk to her longer, but I realized that if my guys came out of the locker room on the other side of the pool and I wasn’t there, they would probably freak out. So I gave her a hug, (not something I usually do with someone I’ve just met!) and told her to email again anytime.
Then I sat outside the boy’s locker room and waited for my guys with a big, silly grin on my face. That felt really good. It feels awesome to know that I’ve helped someone, and that two years later, the person I helped still feels emotional about the conversations we had. I don’t need 217,000 people who truly want to hear what I have to say. I’ve got one. And that is enough to make me happy.