"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 27, 2013
Pearls of Wisdom
by Melissa Howell

I received a message from a friend recently, asking for advice she could share with her brother and sister-in-law, whose three-year-old son had just been diagnosed with autism. My friend was looking for some “pearls of wisdom” she could share with her family to help them along their new journey, one I started down more than eight years ago.

I mulled it over in my mind for a bit before I responded. Advice can be such a tricky thing, because really, no two journeys are ever exactly the same.

When a woman takes those first steps — be they fearful, tentative, hopeful or completely unabashed — towards motherhood, advice floods in, welcomed or not. We hear the gamut of birthing stories, of breastfeeding stories, of potty training stories, of discipline methods, and more.

Some mothers have advice; all mothers have a story. Even though those stories are different for everyone, they can unite and strengthen us, as we find comfort and reassurance in shared experiences, and perhaps appreciate and learn from differing experiences.

As we grow in motherhood and have experiences, our stories evolve. We face parenting triumphs. We face parenting trials. I have surely faced both, and the opportunity to parent a child with autism most definitely has been riddled with peaks and valleys.

In that vein, I offered my friend the following the “pearls of wisdom,” which make me not an expert in raising a kiddo with an autism spectrum disorder, but more an experiencer (I shall claim that as a made-up word) of ups and downs, and my perspective eight years into this journey is much different than it was at the beginning.

  1. Be hopeful. Hope is a powerful thing; the scriptures admonish us to be hopeful. Most parents aren’t prepared or happy to hear their child has ADD, or cancer, or a heart defect, or autism, or any other number of things that can be challenging. In all honesty I felt nothing short of devastated with my son’s diagnosis. I got so caught up in the things he might not be able to do. Yet this far into the journey, I have seen so much more of what is possible, rather than what is not, that I would tell my earlier self to focus on hope. Clearly everyone has his or her own experiences, but I have seen my son reach goal after goal, milestone after milestone. With the right tools, these amazing kiddos can not only achieve, but excel. Speaking of the right tools…

  2. Take advantage of any early intervention opportunities. As parents we have countless opportunities to put on the objective glasses and try to see things as they really are. When my son was diagnosed (at age 2 with pervasive developmental disorder and at age 3 with autism), I was fully aware that he didn’t point, didn’t wave, didn’t follow a point or any other social cues, didn’t speak, didn’t communicate even non-verbally, had obsessive and repetitive behaviors, and was largely in his own world. To this end I had prepared myself for a delayed speech diagnosis. I have sometimes chided myself for not seeing the big picture then, but as he was my first I didn’t really have any comparison. But once we did have the diagnosis, I quickly jumped on board with trying to give my son everything he needed to capitalize on his strengths and start filling in the weaknesses. Those early years are formative in so many ways; the earlier we can introduce things like speech therapy, occupational and physical therapies, the better chance we give these kiddos of maximizing their potential now, and in the future. It is imperative. There are resources out there, as well as people to point you to them.

  3. Set the bar high. My kiddos know I will forever bristle at the phrase “I can’t” (especially if it is nuanced with even the slightest whine). When reading, they have to always try at least once to sound out a word before I still step in with the correct word, and so on with other things. With my son, I have also soundly barred the phrase “I can’t,” from his vocabulary, just as I have barred the phrase “he can’t,” from mine. Children will only rise as high as others expect them to. I have taken the attitude that my son can do whatever he sets his mind to, although sometimes I have to remind myself that some things may be difficult for him; but “can’t” just isn’t on the table. Anywhere.

  4. I am amending this to the advice I sent my friend, but we above all we should remember the importance of being prayerful. There is power in prayer, and as parents we parent at our best when we pray for our children; for they all have strengths we can help them build upon, and weaknesses we can help them overcome. I have had many experiences of praying for guidance to best help my son, and have received answers that provided insight, direction and ideas far beyond my own limitations.

By adding my pearls of wisdom to the chain of mothering stories, my hope is that we can weave together a beautiful strand of stories to strengthen each other and these precious kiddos who have been entrusted to our loving care. I would not trade this beautiful journey for anything.

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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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