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Thankful for Autism?

By Kelly Hafer

By Kelly Hafer

Boy, that’s something I never thought I’d say. For years, I’ve railed against the neurological conditions that have so impacted my sons’ lives. I’ve documented the harm that has fallen my son due to his aggression and self-injurious behaviors. The grief we have felt due to his limitations has been strong and deep. But slowly…ever so s-l-o-w-l-y, my thought process has changed. My view on autism has changed. I still fear for my sons’ futures, and take them to therapy in effort to help them be the best them that they can be. And we still have meltdowns of epic proportions after which I shake my fist at the Heavens. I’m making progress, though, towards true acceptance – the Nirvana for special needs families.

It’s been quite the journey, this life with autism. Over the past five years, I’ve learned much about autism. I’ve learned statistics. I’ve become fluent in alphabet soup speak: ASD, SPD, ABA, IEP, IDEA, FAPE. I’ve learned how to parent my child as effectively as possible, but in a completely different way than I would like. Yes, my brain is chock full of facts, figures, possible causes, and treatment options. And I’ve learned about the in-fighting. The factions. The scams.

On the other hand, Autism has taught me life lessons that otherwise I would have surely missed out on:

I’ve learned that just because someone has no voice doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.

That different is not less.

It does, in fact, take a village. My village is made up of fellow special needs parents, therapists, doctors, teachers, and advocates.

I’ve learned that real-life friends fall by the way side, and family will question many things about our lifestyle, but an incredible support system can be found online.

I’ve felt remarkable love and support from people whom I have never met in person. And I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of several efforts to bring that love and support to others.

Because my sons are on the spectrum, I’ve seen first hand the problems with our healthcare system, the greed and impotence of insurance companies, and the financial pain that having a child with disabilities can have on a family. I’m more sympathetic to families enduring hardships – from whatever the cause.

I like to think I’m less judgmental about others’ parenting styles. And the mom with the screaming kid in the grocery store? She gets a nod of recognition now instead of the death stare.

My sons have taught me that every day is a blank slate. They leave behind any record of my transgressions from the previous day. Oh, that I could learn to do the same! How much energy do we waste on petty grievances or situations already passed? Too much, for sure.

I’ve learned that very little, with respect to the boys’ development, is actually in my hands. Yes, I parent. I do therapy. I push and prod and pray. And, yet, until they are ready to master a new skill…they won’t.

In a very strange way, Autism has made me a much better person. I’m still riddled with flaws: impatience, a love of putting things off for another day, and stubborn streak to name a few. But in other ways I’m softer, much more compassionate, more human. I like the “me” that I have become. And I guess autism has had a positive impact on my life. This month, as we all make record of things we are thankful for, I’d have to say, I’m thankful for how autism has changed me.

Read more blogs by Kelly

Kelly Hafer

Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to four children: a 17-year-old neurotypical (if you can say that about a teenager!) daughter, 6- and 5-year-old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, another beautiful baby girl. Kelly is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Military Special Needs Network. MSNN is a peer-to-peer support organization founded to respond to the needs of all branches of the military and of our Exceptional Family Members. We strive to provide family and emotional support and lasting friendships – See more at:, or Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She manages the official blog of Military Special Needs Network,, and can be found as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. You can contact her via email at

About Tidewater Parent Staff

One of our staff who provides news and information for families in Hampton Roads.

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