Fifteen years ago when we first received Gabbi’s diagnosis of Autism, I had no idea what it would mean for her, or us. There were so many unanswered questions and so much fear of what was to come. During the first few years, fear turned to anger as I wondered why God had allowed this to happen to us. What would happen to my dream of the perfect life with the perfect child?
I would not have considered myself a person prepared to go through some of the challenges that we went through. I lived wishing things would be different and believing that if Gabbi could somehow be “normal” or we could find the magic pill or treatment that would cure her autism, everything would be okay.
Surprisingly, somewhere along the path, it was I who started to change. Call it survival instinct, or maybe just realizing that what I wanted was within me and not dependent on Gabbi being anything other than who she was.
The more I changed how I felt about Gabbi and looked for things to love about her, the more things shifted in our relationship. One day, I woke up to find that our home life was more joyful and fun than it had ever been. The tension seemed to be lifting and she was certainly much happier than she had been in the past…and so was I.
Not only did the changes affect my relationship with Gabbi, but also shifted so many things about me and my relationship with others. It helped me become more aligned spiritually with who I was created to be. These are the changes that have been the most impactful gifts:
1. Greater Compassion
Prior to the experience of having a child with autism, I was prone to judging people for what they did or didn’t do. Today, I have a greater desire to understand than to judge. Going through the difficult times have helped me to connect to people in a way I hadn’t before. At the core of who we are, we all want the same things; to be accepted, to be understood…to be loved.
2. More Patience
In my earlier years with Gabbi, in terms of patience, I had little to none. I wanted things done my way and in my timing! That goes out the door when you have a child with autism. Gabbi had her own agenda and was either not going to do what I wanted, or if she did, it was usually on her schedule and not mine. Boy, did this cause a lot of suffering for me. Over time and with my desire to understand why Gabbi did or didn’t do things, my patience grew. The desire to understand Gabbi has translated to the patience and understanding I now get to share with our team members and students in our program.
3. Unconditional Love
This has by far been the biggest gift of all. Unconditional love allows you to say to someone “you can be exactly who you are and not change for me…and I love you just that way”. This makes you 100% responsible for how you feel, but it has also created true freedom for me. For many years, I was trying to get Gabbi to change her behavior or even who she was so that I could feel better. It was so difficult to love her when she was doing certain things or acting in ways that I didn’t like. These days, even though I sometimes still wish Gabbi would make different choices for herself, I know she is on her own path and experiencing her own lessons. I can now more easily separate her behaviors from the core person that she is.
I sometimes wonder if I hadn’t gone through this journey with Autism, if I would be where I am today in terms of having been given these unexpected gifts. Any chance I get, I let parents know that these tough times can serve them by allowing something beautiful to be the result. The shift occurs when you open up and are able to focus on what you really want. I equate it to a storm rolling in with lightning, strong winds and dark clouds. However, after the storm passes, you will often see the most beautiful rainbows.