Raising a child with Autism requires an immense amount of patience, strength, infinite hope, and an unwavering commitment to spread Autism awareness wherever you go. I have been embodying all of this for quite some time now because I have wanted Nico to know that although his life may be a bit different and sometimes a real struggle, he has someone who is fighting the fight, walking the walk, and feeling all the feels right alongside him. I owe him that and a lot more. Empathizing with my son is like second nature for me. Empathy is something I was taught from an early age and it is something that is truly imprinted on me. It has done me a world of good, fostered amazing friendships, and taught me invaluable lessons.
But, what does it look like and how is it cultivated? Are we born with it? Does everyone naturally know how to empathize? Sadly, no. I have learned that the hard way while being on this journey with my son through the world of Autism, but I am here to tell you that empathy is ALIVE and THRIVING in my son’s Kindergarten classroom! Yes! Children as young as six years old have taken my son under their wings and embraced him for who he is.
While preparing to return to work this past week, after being off with my newborn for over 3 months, I was suffocating under the weight of immense anxiety. However, I was also overcome by immense acts of empathy. Not just for me…I’ll talk about that in a second…but for my son. During Nico’s midterm parent-teacher conference, I learned that the students in his class are excelling in some pretty amazing social-emotional skill sets. They actually “understand” my son and they know that he needs breaks, and that he needs to sit in his special chair while everyone else sits on the floor. When they go outside for recess they cheer for Nico as he comes down the slide because Nico stands at the bottom and cheers for each of them every single time. At lunch, someone is there to help Nico unwrap his straw if he is struggling so that he doesn’t get himself worked up out of frustration. They know he doesn’t have the words to ask for help so they watch for the signs. And when the teacher asks for the class to be silent, they know Nico gets a pass because sometimes “Nico feels better when he is able to talk out loud (scripts).”
When his teacher told me that…when she said that these amazing little angels will correct one another if one dares utter a word about Nico talking…I cried.
These children empathize with Nico’s need to script at times. They may not know why, but they know that that is a part of who Nico is and they don’t even question it. What amazing skill sets to be cultivated so early in life. Nico’s teacher said she has never had a class so in tune with another child’s special needs.
And if that wasn’t enough to make me send gift baskets as a thank you to every one of these students’ parents, I then learned that Nico has a FRIEND! A little girl who he has gravitated to and has genuine interactions with everyday. Nico plays with her, loves to sit next to her, hugs her when he needs some extra support and this little miracle worker understands his needs. To be so young and so intuitive and so empathetic. She tells the teachers when Nico is struggling or when he needs a break. She expresses her concern for him when he is having a tough day or isn’t having “nice hands.”
No wonder my child wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and walks into school with a pep in his step! He knows he belongs!
My ultimate hope for Nico has always been that he would find someone in this world that would accept him for who he is and what he brings to this world. That he could make friends and enjoy another person’s company. I didn’t think it was going to happen so soon, especially with his limited language, but here he is with a special friend who genuinely enjoys spending time with him, learning with and from him. What more could an Autism parent ask for?!
This is a direct result of EMPATHY.
Empathy is transforming Nico’s life and it’s transforming mine too. Being a working mom is tough. Period. But then when you add in weekly overnight travel, a newborn, and a special needs child to the mix it adds a thick layer of guilt, stress, and a secret desire to gamble daily so winning the lottery can keep you at home.
But in preparation for my return to work this week, I have had so many incredible women in my life empathizing with me. Sending me encouraging texts, calling to cheer me on, offering to support me in any way they can so my transition back to work is a seamless one. These acts of empathy made this day infinitely easier.
And what I continue to realize about empathy is that it is so easy to show, it costs nothing, and yet its effects are invaluable and can be felt for miles. Our world is in dire need of empathy right now. We need more people to be kind to one another. Thankfully, Nico’s classmates have set in motion something so incredibly powerful…and they are CHILDREN! Imagine all that they are going to contribute to this world because they have learned empathy at such a young age. It’s one thing to empathize with those who you know and love, but to bestow it upon others simply because it is the right thing to do illustrates the heart of the human condition.
Eventually, Nico is going to start communicating more and when that day comes I hope he uses his voice to advocate for those who need empathy. I want him to know how important it will be to pay forward all the acts of empathy and kindness that were showed to him.
I am beyond thankful and grateful to everyone who empathized with Nico and me this week. These acts of empathy are transforming our lives more than you know and giving this Autism mama a real boost of infinite hope for Nico’s future.
Tonight I raise my glass of wine to all you working mothers out there! We’re surviving and thriving!