By Sarah Collins Prince
My son was 19 months old when he was diagnosed with autism. Sitting in that doctor’s office, we felt like our hearts were being hit by a freight truck. We knew he had some sensory issues, and was struggling in a few developmental areas, but when the pediatric neurologist handed over the diagnosis, we were in absolute shock and had to google ‘autism’ when we got in the car. After the grief tsunami threatened to take us under, acceptance soon followed as we knew the diagnosis was correct. Autism, or ASD, is a developmental disability with a range of conditions such as challenges with social skills, communication, repetitive behaviors, and other things. This was our son, and we had to completely embrace a new life.
What I never imagined was that I would later say that autism was the absolute most beautiful gift to our lives. We quickly found new rhythms and started to see growth and development in our boy every step of the way. Life became something wholly new, and while what I had first dreamed was dead, something new was coming to life, and it brought a deep sense of awe I had never experienced. We had therapies in every single part of our day, we called it ‘therapizing’ our world, but through that, we began to find hope and joy amidst what had previously felt like a death sentence.
Our sweetest boy spent every day fighting and battling to learn new skills, push past behavioral struggles, and adapt to new goals. Even for him, things that seemed intolerable started to seem probable, and every little goal met we celebrated. Slowly, our home became a Keller PARTY every single day as we watched him progress.
Now I am infinitely passionate about helping other families not just survive special needs, but find JOY in special needs. I am not sure if it’s my Mexican-American heritage that makes me want to dance and celebrate, but it was something I fought for even on the darkest days. And joy can be found in your life too!
As a special needs parent, finding joy may sometimes feel challenging, if not downright
IMPOSSIBLE. Am I right? However, it is something to strive towards, not just for your special
needs child, but for your emotional health and heart, as well. Here are some suggestions.
Find your TRIBE. You don’t have to go through this alone. No wait, you CAN’T go through this alone. Connect with other parents who are also raising kids with special needs. You need people who GET it. Support groups, online forums, and social media groups can also provide a sense of community and understanding.
Take care of YOU. You have to make sure to have moments of joy and rest for your own mental health. This can include activities such as exercise, meditation, prayer, therapy, or other self-care practices that bring you joy and relaxation.
Celebrate!! It’s really important to celebrate all the little moments of progress and achievements of your child. Celebrating these moments will make you zoom in to see the beauty of life and experience joy.
Have fun TOGETHER. Engage in activities with your child. Spend quality time together doing things you both enjoy. This will help both you and your child build happy memories and will strengthen your bond.
Be GLAD. There is always something to be grateful for. Write it down, say it out loud, share it on social media, and shout it from the rooftops! Reflect on the good and appreciate all the beautiful things you have.
Don’t ever forget that finding joy is a process, and it may take time to discover what works best for your family. Be patient and kind with yourself, but can I implore you to FIGHT for joy. It’s there, I promise.
Sarah Collins Prince is an American mom, wife, pastor, and author, who has been living in Cape Town, South Africa, for 13 years, working in development and raising the most amazing, wild children. She is an autism advocate, a mother of neurodivergent kids, and neurodivergent and proud herself! She and her family are here to serve and walk alongside families to find joy in special needs.