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Deborah DiVencenzo: Gift of acceptance might be best of all

The “A” word. Autism. One that strikes fear and uncertainty into the heart and mind of all parents who are given this diagnosis for their child. A future of “What ifs?” and “Why our child?” It isn’t easy, truly. No matter how high or low functioning a child is, autism is hard, but love is not.

In the years since our son’s diagnosis, we have learned acceptance. It’s a journey, one filled with many roadblocks, but also times of smooth sailing. A journey filled with many people we never expected to know (or be known by) on an extremely personal basis.

They are the specialists, therapists, teachers, administrators and new friends, who also have extra-special children. They are the people who “get it.”

Many people simply do not understand. We try not to let that bother us and instead try to educate and inform people so that there is greater awareness, acceptance and understanding. We want to make the path easier for those who will be navigating it in the future, much like those who came before us who helped pave the path for us.

For those of us on this journey through autism, the help and support of special education teachers and their support staff is immeasurable. They become an extended part of the family and understand and appreciate our children like no others. These wonderful people are incredibly patient, kind and empathetic. They often see a different side of our kids and they celebrate their milestones and successes as though they’ve hit the jackpot. And they never give up.

Our kids’ lives are not easy; their challenges often great. They have trouble recognizing social cues, which makes it difficult for them to make and maintain friendships. Some struggle academically. Their sensory systems can get easily overstimulated, which causes them to act out in frustration, which in turn can sometimes frustrate their teachers and caregivers, too.

It truly takes an exceptional heart to make a daily effort to reach our differently abled kids, to step into their world instead of expecting them to conform to ours. I want them to know that it is a gift to us, the parents, to know that our kids are so well taught and cared for.

Many other regular education and special area teachers have also made a tremendous difference in our kids’ lives, seeing and appreciating them as people, rather than a label or diagnosis.

A few months ago, our son had an opportunity to stop in at his former elementary school when we were dropping off his sister. We were there for about 10 minutes before school started and in that period of time he was stopped by at least 16 adults (teachers, aides, therapists, office staff and administrators) who greeted him so enthusiastically with a multitude of hugs, fist bumps and high fives! They were genuinely happy to see him and inquired about how he likes being in the middle school.

His former classmates were so excited to see him as well. At one point, he was a little overwhelmed by his reception and when we left the school my eyes were not the only ones filled with tears of gratitude and joy. Our son received this beautiful gift of acceptance, and I was able to witness firsthand how he has made a difference in the lives of others, how he has brought joy to them just by being himself. Different, but never less. Now that is a gift.