From the heart of a Mama with a very special child, a local mother is willing to share her experience parenting a child diagnosed with autism.
Her heartache, her helplessness, and her courage as she charted a course for her son and her family. All the while, changing the way our communities look at differences.
June 30, 2016. This day and moment are embedded deep within my brain. My world STOPPED! How can this be happening? My son, my sweet son Jacob, at the early age of 16 months, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The tears swelled and stung my cheeks as they fell, while I sat in a cold and sterile office on a hard plastic chair. It was a very ugly cry in an unforgiving room. I looked at the nurse for what seemed an eternity. In my mind, the diagnosis replayed over and over again. What does having Autism Spectrum Disorder mean? What resources are out there? Is there a cure? How would I tell people? Questions saturated my mind one after another. On this day, my whole life changed and a new focus began.
For weeks afterwards, I searched inward for a way to better what I perceived at the time as an otherwise grim situation. I couldn't address it. I tried to carry on with my life the same as it always was, only it wasn't anymore. It had to sink in. It had to catch up. I went to the traditional play dates, but my son wasn't into them. He sat in the middle of the floor staring into the deep void of his mind completely unengaged with people. Therefore, I wasn't into them either. A new life awaited me, but I wasn't aware yet. My husband and I attended a speaking engagement in August through the Autism Society of Central Virginia. The speakers focused on how children with special needs need to be seen just like their peers; an essential step for inclusion. This planted the seed for what came next.
Shortly after this meeting on a muggy and hot night, driving home in my minivan from Target, a thought hit me that changed my life. It went like this- Why not show the world how all kids are alike. Go global! Start a movement to showcase children doing the same thing as their peers! Show them in the same light as you see Jacob every day. It sounded thrilling. It sounded exhilarating. Huge. Gargantuan.
I had two choices. One- to politely ignore the idea and quietly get Jacob services, and Two- to completely embrace his Autism Spectrum Disorder and find a way to make it a better world for him and all children with special needs. A wave of excitement and terror came over me at this thought. A global movement?
While making dinner that evening, I casually ran this by my husband, Brian. He started a business of his own so if anyone can find a glitch in an idea, it would be him. I told him and he thought it over. He flashed a warm smile and said, "Molly, it's brilliant. I cannot think of anything wrong with this idea. You should go for it!" I thought on it more. Finally Project: Just Like You came to life!
Project: Just Like You is a campaign to get people talking channeled through social media, media, podcasting, and speaking. Parents share stories and photos of their children and zest for life.
I found out it did not take much convincing for others to climb aboard. There is a hunger for this change and a huge need! The concept speaks for itself. To showcase children with special needs doing the same thing as their peers. It answers the continuous cry I hear from other parents, "We want our child to be seen as any other child. Because. They. Are."
And global it is! People all over the United States, India, the U.K., and Australia have shared their stories on Project: Just Like You. Because this change is happening everywhere, people feel it in all parts of the world. Visible signs are everywhere. This momentum will only continue to go full steam ahead. Communities are coming together and supporting one another. It is a very exciting time to be alive and part of the building momentum of the special needs world and watch it bridging into the mainstream world.
Project: Just Like You is one of the current forces at work to help change the current mindframe of our society, both nationally and internationally. The image of the special-needs child is rapidly changing for the better. We see it in advertising, the media, social media, and hear it in everyday chatter. When we bring the stories of these amazing people out into the open, it breaks down stigmas and barriers. It makes room for discussion. Dialogue is how we find out what we have in common with one another. This is a very exciting time for the special needs individual.
This cultural revolution is happening right before our eyes. The media is filled with stories that highlight special needs children. It is crucial to keep these individuals in the limelight and keep their stories alive. When the world of advertising and media embraces the special needs individual, the rest follows suit. Society is changing for the better. People with special needs are being heard. Our work is far from being done, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. These individuals are truly #JustLikeYou.