Her alarm rings with persistent nagging. Didn’t she just get into bed? Actually, yes, pretty much. 6:20 in bold red numbers are read through her blurry eyes and she only slipped into slumber a mere four and a half hours ago.  She cannot call in sick. She has no personal days she can use. There are no substitutes available. She must rise to face a new day of challenges, labor and achievements. Not only is this 34 year old woman a working mother, but also a staunch advocate for her autistic son, Zach, who is six years old.

I am a stay at home mom to typical 5 and 10 year old girls. I have a very helpful husband who probably does just as much as I do around the house.  And yet, I still complain about being tired and overwhelmed by a monotonous routine.  When I have these moments, I need to remind myself of some of the mothers I know such as the one referred to above.  Her name is Hasmig.

Hasmig is a college graduate.  She is married and also works two jobs in order to pay for the extreme costs of various therapies Zach has received.  These have aided in so many of Zach’s accomplishments. However, the jobs for which she receives a paycheck are not her most difficult; and certainly not the most rewarding.  When reading or hearing about autism and its outrageously rising numbers, it typically focuses only on the child and the disorder. Rarely do we hear about the struggles, emotions and complex situations the parent’s of autistic children face every moment of every day.

Hasmig throws her hair into a pony tail and tries to finish making Zach’s breakfast before he gets up a short 10 minutes later. After getting Zach ready for school, she treks 30 minutes each way to the school in the area which best meets her son’s needs. After she returns home she does all her “mom” work…paperwork, laundry, cleaning, scheduling…and then she gets herself ready to prepare for the many hours still left ahead.  After grocery shopping and picking Zach up from school, she heads out to her hour long commute to her main job in a Veteran’s Hospital where she will be working until 11:30pm. By the time she is home, has Zach’s lunch and clothes ready for the next day, does yet another load of laundry and finally gets to bed around 2am. Just writing that schedule made me feel sleep deprived. Living with that kind of schedule and lack of sleep would knock most of us on our asses. Why can some women do it? Because they have to. They simply have to.

This week being the last week of Autism Awareness Month and only a couple weeks before Mother’s Day, I would like to salute a couple of the mom’s I know who have not only raised above their children’s challenges, but have become some of the strongest women I know.  I refer to these women as The Last But Not Least Ladies.  Mothers of Autistic children live a life different from those who do not face this disease. They have the same stresses and difficulties as well as the same joys and happy moments every parent shares. However, they have additional tensions and elations which are rarely spoken about.

Many people do not know what Autism is, how it affects the individual or its physiology. Many people will see a child acting out or behaving “strangely” in a public place. And a first reaction may likely be one of judgment. Judgment about the child and about the parenting skills of his/her mom or dad. Many people need to realize this is a neurological disorder and NOT a behavioral one.  There are many definitions, explanations and websites dedicated to autism education throughout the internet. But I think this video of Temple Grandin, a 63 year old high functioning autistic who has made it her life’s work to use her PhD in Animal Science to better the lives of animals and also advocate for autism treatments, explains much of it pretty well from a personal point of view. Take a look…

Temple Grandin Speaks on Autism

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Mothers and fathers of children with autism are often confronted with the opinions and judgment of others. Perfect strangers will roll their eyes, tsk in disapproval and say things which are downright inappropriate or rude. Many autistic sufferers have sensitivity issues. Some, it is sensitive hearing. With others, it may be touch that is a troublesome sensitivity. Because of this, it is perfectly clear why some children have a difficult time in public places such as stores and restaurants. While it may seem to one person that the child is simply having a tantrum – what may be occurring is something far beyond what they can control. These are not voluntary reactions. These are signs that the child is in pain or discomfort.

It is human to judge. We all do it in one way or another. But the more we know, the less we judge and how can that be a bad thing? It is so easy to see a child in the throes of a “tantrum” and think he is just a brat. It is easy to wonder angrily why the able bodied woman in the parking lot legally uses a handicapped parking spot. It is easy to not think of these “uncomfortable” illnesses until they directly affect one’s own life.  

When speaking to some mother’s, it seemed clear that the rudeness by strangers was substantially overshadowed by the hurt caused by close friends and family members.  One mom told me that she only wished the people in her life could understand her situation enough to realize she does not always have the capacity in her day to return a phone call or send thank you cards. “I am really torn between loving and resenting my close friends and family,” one woman writes.  Many relatives, friends…they seem to have a fear when it comes to interacting with autistic children.  “My sister in law acts as though he is a bomb,” she explains. 

And let us not make light of the need for a sitter once in a while. We as parents, adults, couples need to have time away, time with ourselves and adult time together. This is clearly even more crucial to parents with special needs children. The divorce rate between parents dealing with autism is said to be now as high as 90%. Yet, it is more difficult to find people willing to babysit for this much needed time together.

For the first time in years, Hasmig will be enjoying a weekend away with college friends. This is something she is quite obviously looking forward to and was an opportunity she could not pass up. After all, who knows when it will present itself again. An entire weekend when she can make herself the priority.  This is something mothers of autistic children rarely if ever get to do.  They put themselves last on a daily basis. Last one to eat, last one to sleep, last one to bathe.

I hope that this story can reach enough people to let them know that the lady next to them in line, their friend from high school, their brother in law…these people may have lives which need a support system in order to function. Not just thrive, but function. This is my story about some women out there in this world who deserve to be first once in a while. Deserve credit, respect and accolades for the mountains they climb. In this last week of Autism Awareness Month, I am giving a shout out to The Last But Not Least Ladies.

 Let us become more tolerant and educated. Let us regain the compassion for our fellow mothers, women, parents and humans. Let us lend a hand instead of whispering distain.  It does indeed take a village. And the village is not only made up of plastic perfect people living TV land lives. But the village does indeed have its heroes. And some of these heroes are The Last But Not Least Ladies. I applaud you.


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