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When You Live with Autism, Mental Health 24/7/365

April is Autism Awareness Month. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

In our house, we don’t need a designated month to make us aware. We live autism and fragile mental health 365 days a year.

Out of our three children, one struggles with a variety of mental health issues and one has an autism diagnosis (also a disorder identified in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”).

In our family, measurements of success look different than that of a typical family. Our victories include things as simple as sleep.

For everyone to wake up under the same roof is a gift. We have known the horror of a young adult child on the run after abruptly discontinuing the medication required for mental health stability.

We have learned that, without the support of medication, our daughter will subject herself to dangers beyond our imagination.

We’ve also learned that in these times, prayer and willingness to help pick up the pieces after the storm are all that we have.

A hug returned by our son is also a blessing that we celebrate. With autism, no social skill can be assumed.

The giving and receiving of hugs proved to be a lesson that would take years to develop for our child.

And when he actually asks for a hug or offers one to someone else, we consider it nothing but a miracle. We have known the days without words and uncertainty as to whether speech would ever develop.

Sometimes success in our house is measured merely by the moments of anxiety in a 24-hour period. Did screaming and confrontation prevail over laughter? Did anyone, parents included, fall asleep crying?

For every day that is primarily uneventful, we give thanks. For every shared laugh, every appropriately managed behavior, every new venture attempted, we are grateful.

Behind the red front door of our home, conversations and events occur that we do not often discuss in detail outside of that door.

We have no hope that others will understand because we also do not understand all that our family experiences and the sharing of our reality honestly takes energy that we do not have.

We simply manage the situation the best we can and move forward, praying tomorrow will bring more moments of peace.

We know that our world will always include professionals and medication. We know that our children will likely need some form of parenting lifelong. We know that anything resembling giving up is not an option for us.

So, what keeps me going as a mom to three kids and three dogs in the throes of autism and mental health struggles?

The grace of God, a sense of humor and as much caffeine as I can get my hands on.

Real life is messy and not easily understood, but beauty comes from even the darkest places.

Kim Divelbiss is minister to children and families and day school director at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Her writings can also be found on her blog, From Hope to Heaven.