“Her achievements and those of children like her deserve to be celebrated…”

It’s that time of year again, graduation.  As I scroll through Facebook, I see post after post of adoring parents boasting the accomplishments of their children: Grade Point Average, college pursuits, athletic achievements, class rankings, and more.  These parents are excited and proud!  They and their children have worked very hard and this is their time to celebrate the achievements of their children.

This year, I am among them.  My third child is graduating from high school.  So it’s my turn to boast: He’s Valedictorian, ranked 7th in his class with a 4.14 GPA.  He’s achieved many athletic awards in his high school career including All Academic, Most Valuable Player, and All Conference.  He’s heading to a D1 school to play football on an academic scholarship.  My oldest is a senior in college.  She’s made the dean’s list all four years.  She’s an accomplished musician who plays four instruments. She’ll soon have a bachelor’s degree in music and be a certified music therapist.  My oldest son is the number one pitcher on his college baseball team.  He made the President’s list this past year and is working toward transferring to a D2 college to play baseball and pursue a career in exercise science.

So now for my youngest:  My Anna  is 12 years old.  She is severely autistic.  She’s currently working on basic reading, conversational, and functional living skills.  She attends school in an autistic impaired classroom and ABA therapy for 15 hours a week.

When I think about all four of my children, my heart swells with pride, yes  ALL four of them!

My youngest works just as hard as my other children, yet there are no awards for her.  She’ll never have her name mentioned in the newspaper or on a certificate.  She has zero trophies, ribbons or plaques.  She’ll never be invited to a banquet to celebrate her achievements.  And that’s ok!  She doesn’t need those accolades to be a champion in my eyes!

She works hard every day just to do the things that came easily and naturally to her siblings.  Some of her recent achievements include reading sight  words and sounding out longer words.  Her therapists, teachers, and I are all certain she will someday be able to read.  She practices conversations and greetings.  Her therapists are thrilled when they hear her say hi to someone on her own.  We spend weekends working on puzzles of up to 100 pieces.  I can remember years ago when a ten piece puzzle would result in a complete meltdown.  She is handling basic chores and many daily living skills independently.  Functional living now seems like a goal we can reach in the near future.  My dream is that she’ll be able to have a job someday.  I imagine her proudly serving coffee and putting a smile on her customers’ faces.

All of these skills have taken years and countless hours of school, therapy, and work at home to achieve.  I can’t even begin to describe the pride I feel when I see her achieve a new skill or I hear a positive report from her teacher or therapist. No skill goes unnoticed.  We celebrate everything and take nothing for granted.

When I see the posts of parents with children around her age, I have to admit, it stings.  They compete in sports tournaments, dance recitals, academic events.  They attend birthday parties, social outings, and have many friends.  While I am happy to see how joyful and successful these children are, I can’t help feeling envious. But when I stop to think about how far we’ve come in the nine years we have been battling autism, the envy starts to slip away and the pride takes over.  When she was first diagnosed, she could barely handle a classroom setting for five minutes.  The para had to take her on walks and into the sensory room all day long to avoid meltdowns.  She was awake most of the night, many nights, screaming and crying.  She hated books and would cry and scream if I tried to cuddle up and read with her.  Her stimming and self-injury made the simplest tasks seem impossible.  Life felt hopeless.  Our days were long, and my heart was breaking more every day.

Now we have a calm I never thought was possible.  She sleeps well and rarely cries at night.  She hardly stims or hits herself.  She tries hard to focus on her schoolwork and has recently been caught holding the hand of her classmate.  She loves listening to music.  We spend weekends on the backyard swing singing along to Taylor Swift songs. She’s starting to make comments on our daily activities, instead of scripting.  I know these skills and achievements will not earn her any awards and most wouldn’t post these victories on Facebook.  But these are successes for my Anna!  I’m so proud of her.  Her achievements and those of children like her deserve to be celebrated, posted, awarded and shouted out to the hilltops!  Our children can make great progress and achieve the impossible!

Author, Catherine Berg

Catherine Berg lives in Shelby Township, Michigan. She is a part-time ABA therapist, substitute teacher, and waitress. She is also the mom of three awesome teenagers and one amazing 10-year-old autistic daughter!