When I think of my last five and a half years of being a parent, I don’t have many regrets.
There are a few things I would have done differently if I had had more information or experience.
One of those would be finding my mama bear growl sooner, especially on behalf of my autistic daughter.
She is brilliant, loving, gifted and I couldn’t be prouder of who she is.
As her mom, I am the protector of her wants, her needs, and really, everything that she is, especially when the communication of those things does not come easily to her.
I knew this when I became a mom.
I didn’t, however, know exactly how or to what degree I would need to roar on her behalf.
I certainly had no idea how often I would find her in need of my defence.
The world was a little more cruel and ignorant than I wanted to believe at the time.
In the early years, I thought inclusion meant taking her to every event, every gathering, every outing.
I truly believed that we could be a family who unashamedly showed up, participated, were who we were, and that this could eventually be successful and promote inclusivity.
I thought more exposure to the things that triggered my child would be helpful in the long-run.
I tried my best to give her tools to be successful in these settings, to help her settle in.
We did what we could to accommodate and help her cope.
But still, I asked big things of her…too big of things.
I knew what things were hard for her to be a part of and I knew that involvement in these things could cause her to struggle emotionally and physically for days.
Ultimately, I expected and asked her to be the one to adjust instead of those around her.
I am sorry that is the stance I took in my ignorance.
I have told her this and have committed to do better as I learn more of what she needs from me and how best to be an advocate.
These days, my mama bear roar has grown from a stifled whisper to a rumbling roar.
I hope to keep refining this roar of mine as I grow and learn over the years with my daughter, and others in the autism community, as my guide.
I will never stop having to learn because I am not one of them and cannot understand and advocate well unless I become their student.
I still have much to learn, but what I do know now is this:
I will no longer ask my daughter to be the only one required to adjust.
She is learning and adjusting and so must those around her.
It’s a two-way street.
If people will not respect my child’s autism and the accommodations, understanding, and flexibility that come with that, there is no room for us in their circle.
If individuals choose not to accommodate and adjust, based not only on the fact that she is autistic but also the simple fact that she is a human being, we have other places to be.
I will not ask her to be less autistic so that people might feel more comfortable.
I refuse to ask her to be someone she is not so that those around her do not have to step out of the pointless societal expectations that we consider to be the norm.
If people choose their curiosity over her comfort and sense of belonging, I will not subject her to that kind of scrutiny.
My daughter is autistic.
Autism is one of the greatest, most incredible things about her that makes her HER.
I will protect her and I will protect her right to be autistic, whenever and wherever possible.
I wish I had known then.
I wish I had fought harder.
I wish I knew I could give us permission to step out of the circles that made her feel less-than or didn’t take her preferences or triggers seriously.
I wish I would have given a louder “no” to those who saw her as a curiosity or puzzle to be solved instead of a precious little girl worthy of respect, consideration, and adjustment.
I cannot change the past, but I have changed the present and I am working to change the future.
Hear me roar.