1. Autism can catch you by surprise. Dolce Amore Studios / Via flickr.com Jude was about 1½ when my husband and I started to feel like parental failures. No matter how much we tried to soothe our son he became more and more frustrated. We watched anxiously as he began to thrash his body in frustration, banging his head into anything he could find, desperately trying to ease his jumbled nervous system. 2. You may feel like a shitty parent. Dolce Amore Studios / Via flickr.com I felt like a shitty mom. Because good moms know how to help their children. 3. The process of getting a diagnosis is hard. Elle Jaye / Via Facebook: ellejayemakespretty We were first-time parents and heard a lot of “Boys will be boys!” But the constant turmoil and battling became too much. Our pediatrician listened to our concerns and gave us phone numbers to call to set up assessments and paperwork and more assessments...and more paperwork...and just when you thought it wasn't possible, more paperwork...and more assessments. 4. It's OK to grieve. Elle Jaye / Via Facebook: ellejayemakespretty Our fears were validated when Jude was diagnosed as autistic. As a parent, you want to stack as many odds in your child's favor as possible, and receiving confirmation that Jude was not "typical" stung. 5. It can feel lonely out there. Dolce Amore Studios / Via flickr.com I’ve been depressed. I’ve felt completely alone. Before Jude’s diagnoses I listened to other parents complain about day-to-day challenges with their "normal" children as anger and resentment bubbled inside of me. I was scared of the future. Would our child ever learn to speak? Would he ever make a friend? Would he be bullied? 6. People have limited reference points for autism. Jason Pryor Photography / Via Facebook: Jason-Pryor-Photography As we began to share Jude's diagnoses publicly, so began all sorts of "helpful" advice. From friends, family, the random lady at the grocery store, that chick on Facebook who I think I know from high school though I'm not entirely sure. We heard a lot of Rain Man and Max from Parenthood references. 7. But everyone still has a damn opinion. Mary-Kathleen Photography / Via lookieboo.com Lots of talk about about how autism may be caused by lead paint, too many germs, not enough germs, gluten, ______ and _____, or maybe ______ mixed with ______. I listened to what essential oils I should implement into our daily routine, what food colorings I should NEVER allow, and whether or not to drug my son. 8. There is help. Mary-Kathleen Photography / Via lookieboo.com Once we received Jude's diagnosis, we had a team of great therapists and doctors guiding us, and our quality of life as a family WAS improving. Life went from feeling completely overwhelming and unbearable to manageable. We all learned coping techniques and how to better communicate as a family. 9. There is nothing wrong with your child. Mary-Kathleen Photography / Via lookieboo.com I learned that the most effective therapies were not about trying to change who Jude was, but actually to encourage him in who he is and adjust my expectations. We discovered how to better understand how his brain functions, how he’s wired. I started to feel a little bit less like a shitty mom. Maybe even like an OK mom. 10. It will challenge your relationship. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose My husband and I learned how to work as a team. I saw how strong we could be when life really challenged us. Sadly, I've noticed that not all families have been as lucky. 11. Early intervention goes a long way. Tiffany Reese We are four years into this adventure and Jude has surpassed all of our hopes and expectations. He has gone from nonverbal to nonstop verbal. He has learned to say, "That is too loud" instead of banging his head into walls. He sleeps in a bed, his own bed! He has friends, lots of them. He wipes his own ass! Sometimes. 12. Autism can be beautiful. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose Parenting Jude has been more rewarding than I ever could have expected. When he is able to overcome a challenge that comes so naturally to other children, we scream with joy because of the work it took for us to arrive there. We have learned to value so many little things in life we wouldn't know are gifts otherwise. A child's ability to whine and complain never feels like a gift, until you've seen what a child's voicelessness can do. 13. No matter what challenge comes you can conquer it. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose Autism once felt like a deep loss. Now it’s something we wholly embrace, a truth we work with and not against. We teach our son to be proud of what makes him different. Do we still have days we all want to bang our heads into the closest object? Absolutely. However, with Jude's autism spectrum disorder diagnoses and support of those around us we know that if we work together and give ourselves (and each other) grace, we will be able to crush the obstacles ahead. 14. You will learn that autism doesn't need to be feared. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose We are no longer trying to cure our son. His quirks, eccentric qualities, and often very narrow interests are what we love about him most. 15. Autism will not control your life. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose When our little family began, we worried autism was going to control us forever, but what we now know is that we are better for it. Blessed by it. We’ve learned autism is Jude's superpower. 16. The future is bright. Amanda Rose Photography / Via Facebook: photographybyamandarose I used to worry about Jude’s future challenges, but now I look forward to his accomplishments.