Jennifer Bush’s son was diagnosed with autism when he was two. She writes about raising him and his younger sister on her personal blog Anybody Want A Peanut? and at Hopeful Parents.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Hopeful Parents?
I am a California native, currently living in San Jose with my husband and our two children. After the birth of our son, who I refer to as Moe, I decided to take a hiatus from my career to be a stay at home mom. My daughter, nicknamed Jelly Belly, was born just shy of Moe’s second birthday. His autism diagnosis came just a couple months later. Moe is now 3, and Jelly is 16 months.
I first got involved with Hopeful Parents as a reader. As many special needs parents will tell you, the first thing you do after a diagnosis is get on the Internet. I looked for information, of course, but I was most taken in by personal stories of families dealing with autism and other special needs. I had also started a personal blog, but wanted to find a supportive community. Hopeful Parents is a great place for that.
What is that you hope parents get out of what you write there?
Being a parent of a child with autism can be incredibly isolating, especially during those first intense years of early intervention. Gym classes, music classes, and playdates all get pushed aside for therapy. Life changes forever. I want my readers to know that they are not alone. That their fears, grief and anger are natural, but that there is still a lot of joy and fun to be had. I want them to know that we are all here to help each other along this long, bumpy road.
What are some of the benefits you’ve found in writing your story?
I started my personal blog, Anybody Want A Peanut?, as a practical way to communicate with my family. I was feeling pretty fragile and I didn’t want to have to tell the same stories over and over. It was also, frankly, something to do while I was stuck at home with a newborn and a child receiving 25 hours a week of in-home therapy.
But writing our story has changed my life. Writing allows me to cry when I need to, keep perspective, and remind myself of the good and the funny things in my life. Writing has also helped me feel a part of a community of bloggers and of special needs parents. I love it when a reader is moved enough by something I write to leave a comment!
Pictures and Memories from Hopeful Parents
Each year on my kids’ birthdays, I make them a photo book. I’ve made three so far: one for my daughter, Jelly, on her first birthday and two for my son, Moe, on his first and second birthdays. In past years this has been a task I’ve cherished, starting well before their late Spring birthdays. I love the process of sorting through the year’s photos, remembering all of places we went, friends we saw, and holidays we celebrated as a growing family.
I make these books for the kids themselves, as something I hope they will take with them as they become adults. And so, at the end of the book, I write a letter telling them about that year, how they’ve grown and changed and how special they are to me.
My son turned three at the end of May and I have yet to make his book. At first I was just taking a break; after all, my kids’ birthdays are a month apart and I had just finished Jelly’s. Then I got too busy planning what to do after our school districts’ painfully short extended school year program. But now, as the regular school year approaches and I have some time, I’m still feeling reluctant to start the task.
It occurs to me that maybe I’m avoiding this year’s book. This was the year it became clear that my son was not developing as he should, that he wasn’t going to start talking “any day now.” This was the year of diagnosis, of assessments, of 25 hours a week of therapy. This was the year of learning the acronyms: ABA, OT, SLP, GFCF, IEP. This was the year of fear and tears, of frustration and anger, of hope and disappointment. This was the year our plans changed. This was the year – the first year – of autism.
I’m afraid of what I’ll see when I look through those twelve months of photographs. Will I see my child disappearing right before my eyes, frame by frame? How many pictures will I have to reject because Moe isn’t smiling, isn’t looking at the camera, or is running the other direction? Will I see the exhaustion in my face, the bags under my eyes, the “baby weight” still clinging to my middle because I could barely leave the house let alone go to the gym? Will I search and search for the requisite big brother holding new baby sister picture, only to remember that we don’t have one of those?
I suppose it is time to make the book and put last year behind us. And I know it is important to do. When Moe is grown, he needs to be able to look back at those pictures and know how far he’s come. He needs to know that whatever challenges life threw at us, we stuck together as a family. He needs to know that even when he wasn’t looking at the camera, or at his sister, or me, I still thought he was the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen. Perhaps most of all, he needs a letter from his mom, telling him how much I love him, how he’s grown and changed, and how special he is to me.
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