Understanding Autism

One Family's Story

Lynn Hudoba and her daughter

Monday, October 24, 2005, was a beautiful fall day. I was stopped at an intersection not far from my house when I had a sudden and certain realization: My 18-month-old daughter has autism.

Audrey was in the back, flipping through books in her car seat. Nothing had changed about her in those few seconds, but suddenly my perception of her was completely different. The fact that she was barely mobile wasn't because she was a late bloomer. Her poor speech and inability to answer her name didn't mean she was an introvert. Our doctor had spoken of developmental delays and was very careful to not use the word autism, but I knew that's what Audrey had, and that she might never recover.

From then on, I passed through each stage of grief several times over, often in the course of a single day: denial, pain, anger, bargaining, shock, guilt, depression, and finally acceptance. The Holy Grail of the stages was acceptance. But even that doesn't sound all that great: Okay, I've accepted it... now what? What about happiness? What about joy? What about laughter? That's the real Holy Grail.

It''s been a long journey, but we've finally gotten beyond acceptance. And humor has had more than a little to do with what has brought us to where we are today. At first it seemed almost forbidden to laugh at our situation. But it's hard not to sometimes, like when you're faced with things such as the clueless reaction of an elderly relative who says she always knew that her grandchild was "artistic."

My daughter doesn't act the same way as a typically developing 7-year-old. She can't ride a bike or make friends like other children her age can. Nor can she converse with you as you might expect her to. But she is sweet and funny, warm and affectionate, adorable and endlessly endearing. Autism may bring me to my knees on occasion, but Audrey is always there to lift me up, bring a smile to my face, and show me all the joy to be had in this life of ours. -Lynn Hudoba, blogger, Autism Army Mom

Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Parents magazine. Reviewed and updated 2013.

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