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As any mother can attest, every kiddo is different. No two are alike. Each child connects and communicates differently. Some have language delays. Others are slow to walk. And in the case of Marina's son, Luca, some evolve at a uniquely different pace. Read on to learn how Marina let go of guilt, advocated for her son, and learned to cultivate a new connection all their own.
“Hi! I'm Marina, wife, mom of four, and postpartum registered nurse. In my free time I enjoy sharing my journey through motherhood on my social channels. I've always prided myself in learning how to juggle the many roles I play in life, though it hasn't always been very easy. This last year has been particularly challenging, and has required more adaptation on my end, along with the willingness to accept the things I can't always control.
It's been a year now since I learned my now three-year-old son Luca has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Having been a nurse, I had a vague understanding of what Autism was, but I never knew the meaning it would hold in my home, in my family or in my heart. This has undoubtedly been unlike any other parenting experience I have ever been through, and it has shaped and formed almost every aspect of mine and my family's life.
So, what is Autism anyway? Well in short, it's a range of symptoms that can vary in severity affecting an individual's ability to connect and communicate socially. I look back to the start of our journey, and my heart has healed so much since having a better understanding of what we were going through. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, Luca was just 18 months old at the time. I remember feeling completely heartbroken because I felt such an intense disconnect between him and I. Something I never experienced with any of my other children
I remember feeling such heavy guilt wondering how it was that I couldn't feel connected to my own child. Was it the pregnancy? Were my hormones off? Something had to be wrong, this was not normal, I remember thinking. He'd soon stop calling me mama, he wouldn't seek my attention, show me his toys, or bring books for me to read. He'd pay little attention to when I would come home or go to work, and I felt like I was losing my little boy and the connection we once had. The biggest sign that sparked the big question was, I would call Luca repeatedly, and receive no response. Not even a quick look or turn of the head. And that's when it dawned on me, could my child have Autism?
I brought up my concerns to our pediatrician who brushed them off at the time as a probable language delay. My gut as a mother and a nurse couldn't allow more time to pass without getting to the bottom of what was going on, because I knew in my heart that it was much more than that. I'm so thankful for my perseverance. Learning of my son's diagnosis certainly induced many emotions, but most importantly it confirmed that there wasn't a lack of love between the two of us, we just needed to learn how to better understand one another. He's been in various forms of therapy for almost two years now and he attends special education preschool, and let me just say, wow. It's amazing how much he's grown and achieved through all his hard work and through the consistency and strength we have offered him as a family.
I certainly experienced the five stages of grief through this process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and let me just say, what a relief it is to finally get to the acceptance stage. I don't place any limits on Luca. He has proven thus far to have a capability in life greater than I could have ever imagined. This journey has been a blessing in disguise and has humbled me in so many ways. It has taught me so much about the unconditional love of being a parent and so many other things I otherwise wouldn't have been blessed with experiencing in my life. Every new word that is said, emotion that's expressed, moment that is shared laughing and playing together is overblown with the greatest excitement. Even my other children clap and celebrate each time Luca learns and achieves something new, and as a parent that is so beautiful to witness. Everything means so much more because we work so incredibly hard to learn and achieve these things that come so naturally to others. The things we often take for granted- like being able to share a simple exchange or experience with someone, hold eye contact for more than 5 seconds, or receive an expression that you know means love (like a hug or a kiss), are soon seen as the highest reward when experienced with your child on the Autism spectrum.
This journey was not an end for us. It marked the beginning of one far more beautiful and rewarding than I could have ever imagined. There's no doubt that we have some hard days. After all, he still is a three-year-old boy learning what big feelings are, and how to navigate through them. But now, we're navigating through them together. Instead of staying in the stages of denial or depression, I found it most beneficial to accept, do everything I possibly could to understand and support my child in the ways he needs me to, and for that I will always remind myself, even on the hardest days that I am enough for my children, and they are everything for me.``
If you've had a similar experience, you're not alone. Trust your instincts. Don't be swayed by a dismissive pediatrician. There are resources available for little ones on the Autism Spectrum. As Mariana said best, “This journey is not an end. It's the beginning of a beautiful new relationship with your child.”
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