Free shipping on all orders over $75🎄

Since joining the autism community as a parent, I keep hearing about “the journey.” “This journey we are on” is the phrase that keeps coming up, and I realize it is a phrase of empathy. It makes you feel like we are all in the same boat on the same creek, and not one of us thought to bring a paddle! And, listening to some parents talk about the different things they are going through confirms this is the case—this is a journey, and far too many of us are concerned about the destination.

Why? Boil away all the fluff and distractions. What is the goal here? Are we trying to raise Rain Man?

I believe in my heart that the primary goal of every parent should be that their child is happy, healthy, and given every chance to excel. These things are far more difficult when you have a special needs child. That is because the script flips.

RELATED: 1% Better Every Day—What We Can All Learn From the First Ironman With Down Syndrome

A stereotypical parent marks their child’s progress by milestones, report cards, and experiences. They have the luxury of having a script. They have a box to check, and when things deviate, they know something is wrong.

Special needs parents don’t. There isn’t a nice little pathway rolling across the idyllic countryside with checkpoints and sightseeing options.

This is like if the show Lost did a Hunger Games episode. Nobody understands it, and we are always fighting for everything.

So the plane ride of normal parenthood develops catastrophic engine failure and you know that you have to jump if your family is going to survive. You grab your shoot and leap. Somehow, you land in a long-forgotten forest. This forest is old, with a canopy so thick that it seems perpetually dark. The underbrush is thick as if no one has walked this before. “This journey we are on” starts here, and you are not alone.

Here’s the interesting part—none of us land in the same spot. We land differently, take different injuries on the way down (yep, every one of us is hurt in some way) and yet, once we pick a direction, we all share experiences. We are all in the same forest.

RELATED: To the Dads of Kids With Special Needs: Your Spouses Need Your Support

So, how do you deal with it? How do you deal with the trees, rocks, and briars that life has thrown at you? First thing’s first—deal with injuries. I’m embarrassed to say this one took me a while to realize.

Like most dads I’ve talked to, my knee jerk reaction was to “fix” the issue, not realizing the tree in front of me was part of a much bigger forest.

Take it from a guy who’s been there, you will die before you cut down that tree barehanded. That’s because in this metaphor, the forest is autism. You cannot fix it. You can’t fix the landscape, you can only shape it. So, take a breath and check your loved one and yourself! You can’t help anyone if anxiety has broken your leg! Get yourself OK. Because now the objective has changed, and you have not realized it yet because you are disoriented by the landing. Because you cannot fix this. You cannot power through it like a cold on a workday. It doesn’t work like that.

This trek through these woods is going to take years, decades, and possibly even the rest of your life. The destination no longer matters.

Besides, like Shepard says on the show Firefly, “The journey is the worthier part.” So with that in mind, please get yourself OK.

RELATED: Some Days it’s Hard to Be the Dad of a Special Needs Child

Next, you walk. I recommend learning everything you can about where you are—that will help you figure out what part of the woods you are in. That will give you direction and direction is good. It gives you purpose, and purpose keeps you going. After that, it is just one step at a time.

Now the hardest part—finding light. Everything about this metaphor is terrifying and depressing. That is what makes light so freaking important. Humans need light to survive. It gives us vitamin D and can help reduce depression. So, find the light.

Now, you are not going to get that ray of sunshine you have been accustomed to here. The beams are going to be small and narrow, pouring through the canopy. But just because they aren’t as big doesn’t mean they can’t be fully enjoyed.

Revel in small victories. Hey, your autistic child just ate a new food. Cheer! Throw a party! Make a big deal out of something you would otherwise consider small.

Autism flips the world of expectation on its head. A typical parent would freak out if their child played in their own poop. Parents of a special needs child take one look at it and go, “At least it’s not in the carpet this time.”

Their “bad” isn’t so bad to us, whereas our “victories” aren’t victories to them. It’s backward.

Once you realize that you have to start using a different ruler to measure achievements, you’ll begin to see just how far from the crash site you’ve made it.

Originally published on the author’s blog.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Shane Mills

I'm a father to a special little boy named Graham. He was diagnosed with severe autism and is considered nonverbal. My wife and I devote our time helping Graham in every way we can.

I Struggled With My Son’s Diagnosis, But Found Hope in the Special Needs Community

In: Fatherhood, Tough Times

When I found out I was going to be a father I was beyond excited. My wife and I had been trying to conceive for years before she got pregnant. So, when she told me I was going to be a father I wanted to shout it to the rooftops! I made sure to call my wife every day at work to make sure she ate lunch. I’m sure I annoyed the heck out of her. We later found out that we were having a boy, and started to plan everything. We started to paint the baby room with blues...

Keep Reading

People Don’t Know How to Deal With Those Who Are Grieving

In: Tough Times

Cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. Friends. Friends of the Family. Dad. Wife. I’ve known loss. If you are reading this, chances are you have, too. For all the many, many wakes and funerals I have been to, one thing has continuously occurred to me. The wake is so much easier than the funeral. When I sit back and think about why that is, I can only come to one conclusion: support. There is so much support at a wake. At least in my circle of love, they usually last over six hours and the room is usually filled to near capacity....

Keep Reading

Dear Husband: It’s OK to Be Depressed, But You Can’t Ignore it

In: Marriage, Tough Times

Dear husband, we need to have a real conversation. You are the first to admit that lately things have changed for you. Things that used to be simple for you suddenly feel impossible and require so much energy. Getting out of bed is hard. It feels so much better to stay in bed and avoid it all. Tackling household projects and chores just feels like too much. So, you ignore them. Taking care of yourself by eating healthy and exercising doesn’t sound appealing at all. But, boy, do chips and salsa, brownies, and sitting on the couch sound like comfort....

Keep Reading

Don’t Miss the Chance to Tell Your Mom You Love Her

In: Fatherhood, Tough Times

This is my Mom. Well, that’s her in the mid-1960s. But that’s her—that little girl, full of life. Before life started happening. Before traumas. Before abuses. Before a turbulent adolescence. Before an unplanned kid (me). Before an abusive relationship. Before navigating her way through an era, and in an area, where having three kids and being unwed was frowned upon and judged. Before working two full-time jobs to feed us—one a 3rd-shift factory job, and the other a day job as an administrative assistant at the local college. Before she got the day job, she worked full-time and went to...

Keep Reading

I Was an Addict. Thanks to God, I Have My Life Back.

In: Faith, Tough Times

“There’s something wrong with Daddy.” That’s what rock bottom sounds like. I thought he was too little to notice. I couldn’t fool my wife, my brother, my boss, myself, but I thought he was too little to notice. Alone on a couch at 3:00 in the morning, desperate to stop shaking, desperate to slow the racing anxiety, desperate to die and be done with it all. That’s what rock bottom feels like. RELATED: Dax Shepard’s Relapse Reminds Us Recovery is a Daily Process My wife had banished me to that couch. She was angry but she didn’t do that out...

Keep Reading

A Letter to My Wife’s Anxiety: You Will Never Win

In: Marriage, Tough Times

Your name gets thrown around a lot in our current social clime. Anxiety. Everything gives people anxiety now. We never heard your name 20 years ago, and now you’re one of the most frequently discussed health disorders in history. Some people swear you don’t exist, and that’s how I know you’re the damn devil. People who don’t necessarily feel you don’t seem to grasp—no, some don’t even believe—that you warrant any merit. That’s because to them, you’re just that. A feeling. For those that simply “feel anxiety” in a situational context, you can be stomached and put away until that...

Keep Reading

To My Son With Autism: You Will Not Be Stopped

In: Fatherhood, Tough Times

Kash, It’s been over four years since your mom and I found out we were going to have a baby. I remember when she told me. I was excited, but I was freaking out too. I always wanted a son or daughter. That was what I was excited about. I was nervous, because of the troubles your mother and I had trying to have a baby. We had miscarriages, and we had done testing. We did not know if having a child was in the cards for us. You changed all that. We found out we were going to have...

Keep Reading

Dear Husband: I Love You, But Please Don’t Ever Drink Again

In: Marriage, Tough Times

Right now you are curled up behind me like a cuddly question mark. Your body heat is more than enough to suppress the slight chill in the air. Just a few memories ago, the bed was cold with me lying alone in it. You were out somewhere drinking. Or maybe you were just drunk in the next room. Either way, I was alone. Right now the oven timer is going off. It’s late but I have Amish bread to pull out of the oven. I sidle away from you out of bed and into the dimly lit kitchen. The whole...

Keep Reading

Hilarious New Ryan Reynolds Ad Nails 2020

In: Tough Times, Work

FINALLY, the commercial that 2020 deserves. Celebrity star Ryan Reynolds and his production company, Maximum Effort, have teamed up with dating service and pop icon Taylor Swift to make a commercial for the dating service that perfectly captures everything relatable and frankly, hellish, about 2020. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re married or single, I promise you everyone can find something relatable about this hilarious spin on our collective suffering. The commercial, aptly titled “Match Made In Hell,” begins with Satan (Aaron Reed) hanging out in hell looking totally bored when his phone starts buzzing, notifying him he’s matched with...

Keep Reading

I’ll Always Miss My Dad, But I Hear From Him Every Christmas

In: Fatherhood, Tough Times

I picked up the phone to call my dad the other day. I was thinking about my car insurance bill, and wanted to ask him something. This wouldn’t be that unusual for most people, except my father passed away almost 15 years ago. I think I’ve been through 10 cell phones since he died, so his number is long erased, yet I hit the button for Siri on my phone and stated “Call Dad” like it was completely normal. Every December, my dad comes back to my thoughts with the force of a wrecking ball through my mind. It may...

Keep Reading