It was the year 2007 that the spectrum recruited me into the Autism Army. My 2-year-old son was sitting in the corner of the doctor’s office, running an unplugged electric cord under his nose and making a high pitched screech as if he were picking up radio signals from a faraway country. I had my newborn daughter strapped to my chest in the world’s most complex baby wrap ever made. The doctor was very matter of fact in his tone, which made the word “autism” sound harsher than I had ever heard it said before. I’m assuming that due to the complexity of my civilian gear, he knew I was born to be a soldier and could handle the intensity of boot camp. We left with our war documents, and I knew, at that moment, I had to find the strength to strap on my gear and enter the Autism Army.
I managed to navigate through the war zone successfully and am still alive today. My son was nonverbal until the age of 4 years old. I’ve been blasted in the face by many sippy-cups and public stares, but today we are cleaning up our war zone. My son is now 7 years old and diagnosed “off the spectrum” … such a controversial thing to state. After many years fighting on the war path, my war hero is left with Motor Skill Disorder, Speech and Language Disorder and Chronic Sleep Disorder. He still has many autism characteristics that silently shine through but we consider those the scars of the war and accept them proudly to have molded my son into the fine soldier he has become.
Today, I like to think of myself as an Autism Veteran. I help many families go to war for their children with special needs as any proud autism vet would. It was our best solider that inspired me to begin my work with children with disabilities, as she was the first therapist that arrived for combat four days per week in my living room. She believed in my son when no one else did. She gave me the skills I needed to fight the war, and I owe her a Purple Heart for her strength and courage. It is an honor to return to the war to serve others, and it is a war I will never stop fighting.
— Michelle O’Neill, AHSS Skills Coach and Mother of a Special Needs Child