"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 22, 2013
Feeling Blue
by Melissa Howell

"I want to play baseball," my 9-year-old announced to me recently.

My heart skipped a beat.

I couldn't help but think of soccer. When he was five, we signed him up for soccer. His team was called the Red Lizards. I had hoped it would be a good experience, that he would enjoy the physical activity and make an effort to interact with the other Red Lizard players. But mostly, that he would have fun.

And he did, although not necessarily in the ways I had hoped. Mostly, he liked to pretend to be the ball. Going into the net. Away from all the other players. Thus, when the runners would all run to one end of the field, little legs kicking and running and sometimes tripping, but overall grasping the general concept of the game, my son would run to the other end of the field, away from everyone else, and roll himself into the empty net. Score!

This was really difficult for me. I would literally have to psych myself up for the games, prepared for everyone in attendance to notice that this one particular player didn't play like the other kids. Tears even found their way to my eyes on more than one occasion, as I watched another game of Connor-the-soccer-ball unfold.

You might have noticed some friends or acquaintances - strangers, even - lighting it up blue this month, as April is autism awareness month. I wonder if perhaps there is any correlation between lighting it up blue, and the fact that I really did feel very blue when we first received our son's diagnosis.

Like what was so obviously displayed during soccer season, there have been many times our son doesn't quite "look" like everyone else. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

If we 'light it up blue" in April to increase awareness about autism, here are a few things that having an autistic child has made me more aware of:

  • My son's amazing attention to details; he notices and introduces me to things I have gone my entire life without seeing until he opened my eyes.

  • My son's near perfect ability to imitate certain sounds, especially those associated with rescue vehicles.

  • The fact that no two kiddos with autism are exactly the same; that while there are similar behaviors and challenges that go along with autism, each person with autism is as individual as can be.

  • The importance of early intervention and therapies to give kiddos with autism all the possible tools and strategies to be their most amazing selves.

  • The fact that for many kiddos, including my son, the reality of autism can be far from the early fears and concerns. My first thoughts and worries when we received the diagnosis included the possibility of friendships, school, career, mission, family and beyond. Now, just seven years into this journey from the time of diagnosis, I focus solely on the potential of friendships, school, career, mission, family and beyond. And that potential is great!

  • That we all have challenges; some of them just have specific names.

  • That identifying weakness and overcoming challenges brings some of the sweetest and most rewarding joy. My son joined the fourth- and fifth-grade band this year, and currently is the only drummer in the band. In his first concert, held earlier this spring, there stood my son at the back of the band, dressed in his finest suit, each tap tap tap on the snare drum clearly setting him apart as one who we could all clearly hear. As I watched him, my heart bursting with pride, I thought back to the timid toddler who was trapped in his own world, and now who is approaching 10 years of age and has contributed so many good and positive things to his world. In that moment, I was reminded that we all indeed march to our own beats. And that makes the most beautiful music.

So when my son asked to play baseball, I put my past experience to rest and told him that if that's what he wants to do, then that's what he will do. I will be there cheering him, dressed in my full ensemble of enthusiasm. Regardless of whether he hits and throws the ball, or whether he envisions himself as the ball flying through the air, I have learned to no longer feel blue. Rather, I will light it up blue in joyous celebration of this amazing individual and all the lessons and triumphs in which I have been privileged to play a small part.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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