Jamie Mom Eliot 2010 33542

I thought I was prepared for motherhood—I was the oldest of ten kids and had an incredible role model in my mother (who's pictured above. She's a professor, nurse, and the most loving person I know). I'd been babysitting since before I could remember, and I'd worked as a nanny for years before having children of my own.

But, when Liam, my non-verbal 7-year-old with autism, arrived, there was lots about him I wasn't ready for—his sensory needs, his insomnia, his strange behaviors, and much more. I was overwhelmed, terrified I was doing a bad job, and unsure of how to help him move through the world.

My mother guided me as best she could—giving me books, talking to her colleagues in the medical field, sharing her own experiences as a mother, holding me when I cried—but autism was uncharted waters for both of us. In time I found a community of autism and special needs moms who've had a tremendous impact on my life.

I offer this post as tribute and thank you to ten of the most inspiring autism and special needs moms I've had the honor to know.

There's Katie, the first autism mom I knew and one of my best friend's sisters. She guided me to resources and answered all my emails in the early "I'm-panicking-about-Liam's-Diagnosis" days. She was wise, kind, funny, and, she gently nudged me towards a place of acceptance.

From Katie: I learned to get over my initial terror of Liam's autism diagnosis.

There's Chris, the autism mom who runs a non-profit that trains Emergency Professionals and First Responders about how to interact with people with autism. A few years ago, she invited me to her house, so I could see RPM in action. She pushed me to seek out this communication method for my son, through showing me how it worked with her own child.

From Chris: I learned possibility.

There's Jess, the brilliant, funny, fierce blogger behind Diary of a Mom. I "met" her via"Welcome to the Club," and I got to know her better through subsequent interviews and emails. Through her blog I've learned a lot about neurodiversity, and she continues to inspire and challenge me with her words and advocacy. I also love the community she's built for Diary readers.

From Jess: I learned acceptance and the importance of community.

There's Anna, autism mom, artist, and dancer. She takes beautiful photographs and writes blisteringly honest pieces about motherhood, her daughter, and her life.

From Anna: I learned to look for beauty in the world (even on the darkest days).

There's Lyn, writer, teacher, mom to Will, a 12-year-old with CP and autism, and power lifter. She's a force, and her road is often hard— like it was this spring when Will had multiple surgeries, struggled with the recovery, and Lyn and her husband had to balance jobs, Will's home health care, and the other demands of their lives.

From Lyn: I learned strength.

There's Kelly, mom to Cailinn, a 7-year-old with a very rare genetic disorder. I met Kelly in a dusty barn while both our kids did hippotherapy. While I worried about Liam's horseback riding, Kelly chatted with me about her daughter's many visits to the hospital (for surgeries, teeth cleanings, and more). While we talked, Kelly was always knitting or crocheting covers for feeding tubes and other things for her small business (Cailinn's Creations), which makes all sorts of wonderful items for kids with special needs.

From Kelly: I learned perspective.

There's Dani, mom to two beautiful girls with autism. Dani's spent much of the last few years fighting to change laws in Wisconsin, so her daughters can use their public school funds at a private school with their ABA therapists. Every year, Dani storms the Capital, meeting with legislators, talking with media, and fighting for her kids to have the same learning opportunities as their typically-developing peers.

From Dani: I learned how to fight.

There's Ariane, writer, mom to Emma, jewelry designer, and advocate. Her words come to me often when I question my judgment. This is one of my favorite quotes, from the post "What We Would Have Done Differently,": "It it is Emma who is leading the way, my job is to follow, listen, learn and cheer her on."

From Ariane: I learned to forgive myself for my mistakes and to listen to my own child to find out what works best for him.

There's Patti, single mom to two teenage sons with autism, special education teacher, surfer, music lover, advocate, and friend. When Patti's husband left her a few years ago, she resolved to love her boys for who they are, see the world with them, and be grateful for what she has. She takes them surfing, skiing, boating, to art and music shows, and they're all going to Hawaii together this summer.

From Patti: I learned to lean into autism and see where the adventure takes us.

There's Emily, another single mom to three girls, one who is a teenager with CP. Emily is Liam's teacher, and our interactions about his education have evolved into friendship over the last year. She's moving her family across the country next month, so her daughter doesn't have to face another Wisconsin winter. She's creative, engaged, and always working to find better ways to help her daughters, Liam, and all the kids in her class.

From Emily: I learned grace in the face of unexpected challenges.

There are so many other moms (and dads) I've met in this parenting journey who continue to inspire me, and I celebrate all of you each and every day. Thank you for all you've taught me, and thank you for all you do.

Liam and Jamie

{Liam and me on Mother's Day, 2015, during one of our many wagon rides around the block when festivities at my in-laws house got a bit too overwhelming for him.}

Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton

Images courtesy of Jamie Pacton