I can remember a time when I thought other moms were the enemy. I could see their critical glances in the family locker room at the gym, watching Lukas melt down because he wanted to go swimming while Marek hit him because he categorically disagreed. There were the Facebook posts showing perfect family outings enjoyed by mothers who could competently negotiate the world without disaster. There was the grandmother at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Newport Beach, who made nasty comments about Lukas's behavior as we tried quickly to scarf down a vacation dinner at 5 p.m. on a Thursday. Then there was my own mother, who made slyly critical comments, and once opined, "I had four boys, and they weren't like this. I must have done it right, because they weren't like this."
Everything changed with Lukas's autism diagnosis. Before, I was the terrible parent who could not or would not control her unruly boys. With one word from a behavioral pediatrician, I became a mom struggling with the challenge of raising a child with a disability. A few years and a couple of ADHD diagnoses later, I was supermom, making life work despite a trifecta of neurological complications.
It's all in your perspective, I guess. Knowing that Lukas had autism made other people understand that my boat wasn't as easy to row as they thought. People with more typical lives became a bit more tolerant of my traveling circus of chaos. People who traveled in atypical circles stepped up to help me.
Getting a diagnosis rocked my world with endless questions. How could we manage day-to-day life? What would the future hold? Who could help us? I burned up the internet, but didn't find much information I could use. My salvation was Lukas's occupational therapist. I would come to her with a dilemma, and she would point me in the right direction. When I wondered how Louie would ever go to preschool, she directed me to my school district to ask about early childhood screenings. When Lukas was the only two-year-old who wouldn't sit in the circle and participate during parent-tot gymnastics class, she sent me to the park district to ask about inclusion assistance. Years down the road, she shared her own experiences as the mom of a son with ADHD and helped me with some questions completely unrelated to autism and occupational therapy.
I had friends with kids on the spectrum. I had always avoided speaking of their kids' disabilities, thinking that it was more polite not to bring it up. Now, I was a member of their club, and they reached out to help me. One recommended I ask my Early Intervention coordinator for my own copy of the Boardmaker software I'd need to create visuals, thereby saving me hours of time at the public library. They gave me advice and moral support as I prepared for Lukas's first IEP meeting. Most importantly, they helped me understand that I wasn't alone.
It's been almost five years since Lukas's diagnosis, and in that time my perspective on other mothers has changed completely. I talk very openly about Lukas and autism, not only to educate people who just don't get the funky behaviors that accompany developmental disabilities, but also to offer myself as a resource or a friendly ear. And I'm always looking for a friendly ear too, someone who has insights I can use as I work to help Lukas grow.
Maybe the mommy wars are alive and well and lurking in every controversial post on social media, but, in my experience, they don't exist among the ranks of moms with special-needs kids. We're all on the same journey, and we want to make sure everybody gets where they need to go. Those of us a little further down the road like to call back some encouragement to help those behind us find their way with a minimum of wrong turns.