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As the old adage goes, parenting is much more of a marathon than it is a sprint. But like most challenges, parenting certainly has its rewards, too.
And that’s especially the case when you’re raising a child with special needs. Just like running a marathon, it will test your mettle, your resolve and, ultimately, your heart.
“I never thought I was very strong,” Carrie Mahoney explains, as she shares the story of finding out that her youngest of two children, Henry, now five years old, was autistic.
Carrie and Matt Mahoney had always known something was a little different with their son, who was more challenging and had a much shorter attention span than his older sister. They just didn’t know what it was. Still, that didn’t make the diagnosis of autism they received, after the arduous task of booking and going through two days of neuropsychology testing, any easier.
1. Don’t be afraid.
It took Carrie Mahoney eight months to actually tell other people her son had been diagnosed with autism. But once she did say something, she found out she was far from alone, that it was therapeutic to talk about it and that there’s a lot of great support locally.
2. Early intervention is key.
If you have any serious concerns, have your child tested.
3. Set your child on a path to succeed.
There are a lot of helpful resources out there. Don’t be afraid to seek them out and ask for help.
4. Learn everything you can.
Carrie highly suggests reading, “The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism” by autistic Japanese author Naoki Higashida, to understand the challenges from an insider’s perspective.
5. Know that it’s okay that your child is different.
Everyone else has challenges, too.
6. Find an outlet for yourself.
Raising an autistic child is challenging. Make sure to nurture yourself as well.
“When we got the call it almost felt like all of a sudden someone had dropped a different child on my lap,” Carrie explains. “You just want your child to be ‘normal,’ to be okay. We started to worry, is this the label our child is going to get for the rest of his life?”
The Mahoneys’ reaction was typical of parents who discover their child has special needs like autism—a mixture of fear, confusion and even some anger. But, for Carrie, there was also a sense of hope, which began to blossom in the hidden strength of her spirit. “He had been so hard and this helped explain it,” Carrie says, adding that the clinical diagnosis also opened the door for assistance and advice. “It also helped give us some direction on how to help him.”
As they say, it takes a village to raise a child and, especially in Henry’s case, it helps that the village is all on the same page.
“There is so much exceptional support locally,” Carrie says, complimenting the terrific assistance from places like Higher Ground, the Wood River YMCA, Swiftsure Ranch, the local social/emotional interventionists and, of course, the Blaine County School District.
“The group at Woodside Elementary is phenomenal. They don’t just work to make a living, they work to make a difference,” she says.
Carrie explains that one of the hardest parts about raising an autistic child is the social confusion the disorder creates. “When you drop the ‘A-bomb’ people don’t know how to react. Henry is still a great kid who just has some things he needs to work through,” she says, explaining that Henry is on the higher functioning side of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), or the “spectrum,” as the neurological disability is sometimes referred.
“Henry has learned that he’s okay. He feels like he’s normal and great and everybody else is different,” Carrie says. When asked what she has learned, Carrie says that besides learning how strong and supportive the local community is, she has learned that she’s actually pretty strong herself.
“I have found strength through this,” Carrie says. And indeed she has, having used her son’s diagnosis as a reason to run her first-ever marathon, last year’s famed New York City Marathon, to help (with generous assistance from the Lee Pesky Learning Center) to raise funds and awareness for autism programs locally. As Carrie says about not only conquering the marathon, but life as the parent of an autistic child, “If we can get through this, we can get through anything.”