Even before my son was born, I had made a handful of plans as to what he would be. He would be funny, smart, almost certainly be athletic and he would no doubt have a successful job.
The day we were delivered an autism diagnosis when he was aged three, those plans were wrenched away from me with just the mention of the one word.
He was non-verbal and still not toilet trained. How would he ever achieve anything? He was autistic. I plunged into a depression where I couldn’t see the tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it.
Autistic meant that you are unable to succeed. Life would be full of challenges that would be difficult to overcome. Who would love my son? How would he ever learn anything when he barely understood anything?
Although I knew that autism was a spectrum disorder, I hadn’t quite realised how wide that spectrum was. I had read about two very extremes, people who were non-verbal who had issues accessing the world around them and people who were high functioning who could articulate their difficulties but go on to form relationships and secured employment. Joseph appeared to fit in between those extremes, which in some respects made the future seemed so uncertain.
There wasn’t a lightbulb moment when those feelings changed; it was a gradual process. His communication developed and he eventually started using the toilet. He began hitting some milestones, albeit later than his peers but he hit them. I heard stories of people who were non-verbal who went on to be scholars with university degrees and I became hopeful. I was frightened of setting expectations too high but I decided that I would give him all of the opportunities he needed to succeed.
I realised that success is not necessarily measured through exam qualifications but through more subtle achievements. We have celebrated a successful shopping trip. We have high fived when he has walked out with confidence in front of the whole school and participated in a dance with the rest of his class. We have cried with joy when he has initiated a conversation and not just imitated spoken words.
I still don’t know whether he will find love within a relationship. I have no idea whether he will remain within a mainstream school environment or whether he will be capable of living independently. What I do know is, I will be able to look back and have no regrets about the opportunities I have provided. As a parent, my difficulty lies within trying to predict the future and knowing the end game, but nobody can know that.
Your child being autistic doesn’t mean you can’t have dreams, it’s about readjusting your expectations. We still set the bar high for Joseph and encourage him to reach for the top and he will always have the constant support along the way.
I believe in him and I believe in my ability to be the advocate he needs.
The original version of this post first appeared on AutismAwareness.com.