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Appreciating Autism

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April 2nd is recognized by the U.N. Foundation as World Autism Awareness Day. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered his 2014 personal message about autism in honor of this day:

“World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programmes, employment opportunities and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world.”

This year, in honor of the day, Johnson & Johnson invited mom blogger, Emily Vanek, mother of a three sons, to share how she’s come to appreciate and advocate for the world of her autistic son, Brady.

When I was a child, I fantasized about having a family. A husband, a couple kids, maybe even that highly coveted white picket fence. Never did I imagine that I would be raising a child with Autism.

Back when I was younger, the only connection I had to Autism was my cousin. He lived 2000 miles away and I only saw him a handful of times growing up. I had heard stories, but more along the lines of “He can take a vacuum apart and put it back together better than a pro!” When we got the diagnosis for my youngest son a few years ago, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I almost hate to say it, but I was thankful. Thankful our 2+ year journey to help understand what was going on was over. He had had issues with tics, hypotonia (low muscle tone), dyspraxia, motor coordination issues, speech and feeding issues. He was failing to thrive and all we wanted to do was to help him.

With this diagnosis we could finally focus on how to communicate with our amazing little boy and finally didn’t have to explain the 200 other diagnoses he was given that no one had ever heard of before. We had something that we could attach a plan to. Something people understood, at least peripherally. Autism was a common term as at the time, 1 in 88 children had it. Now those numbers are up to 1 in 68 and on the rise.

While living with a child with Autism can be stressful, it can also be amazing. I would have never thought to lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling fan with my son, but it’s one of our favorite things to do. I would have never thought bubbles were so profound before, but watching my son’s face fill with joy when he sees them can make me tear up. Before Brady was in our life, I would have never thought common milestones were actually tiny miracles. Things like pincher grasp, learning to look someone in the eyes and even just responding to his name were things I took for granted with my older boys. Now these are celebrated, usually with a trip to a home improvement store to stare at the ceiling fans for an hour or two.

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Autism has opened my eyes and mind to all the possibilities that are out there. It has reminded me to take time for life’s littlest pleasures. To make more time for my children to lead and choose the activities we do. To enjoy life as much as I am now. Some people may think Autism is something to grieve, but I feel like it’s something to be inspired by. I’ve since joined our local Children’s Hospital Advocacy group and even went to our State Capital to talk to legislators about various House and Senate bills that would affect kids on the spectrum. I get emails from families with new diagnoses and try to respond to each one honestly and openly. My world has been forever changed and I love it.

Emily Vanek is the owner and editor-in-chief of Her work is also featured on where she helped develop a special needs toy guide for kids of all abilities.

She and her husband live with their three sons near Denver. Her youngest child is on the Autism Spectrum, so she is passionate about connecting with parents with special needs. In her spare time, she knits, shops, and reads. She is also a master tortoise wrangler and expert in getting water out of various electronics (don’t ask).

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