Single mom raising two teenagers who experience autism

I always get questioned about what it’s like being a single mom raising two teenagers who experience autism. (technically the 18-year-old is considered an adult now). My answer is always pretty much: exhausting, educational, and interesting.

Autism is so different in both of them that it really is a new adventure for each. Ty is my tall, computer loving, always singing, Pixar quoting guy.  The first time I heard of the word autism for him was at a well child check in Washington. I was so flustered I picked him up and walked out. It wasn’t until we were back up here that he was diagnosed. He wasn’t feeling well so we had a random doctor at a walk in appt. who said to me, ” oh, your son has autism too!” Even though I would not say I was fully prepared, it was actually the day I accepted it. She helped him more than she ever knew. His regular pediatrician had been telling me for months that he was just a boy and he will grow out of it. That began the journey.

There was special needs preschool, then OT and speech therapy, there were visits with the developmental pediatrician and paperwork. So much paperwork. I read every book I could get my hands on. Each person that became part of Tyler’s journey helped him in his steps to being who he is today. Several of them still check in on us. All For Kids Pediatric Therapy was a huge help for Tyler and a huge support for me. His elementary teacher is still a very close friend and loves both the kids. It’s still hard for me to think of him as an 18-year-old.This will be his last year of official high school, and we will see what the future holds after that.

Haley’s journey began the first time I saw her flap her hands. At first, I thought it was her mimicking her brother, but then I started noticing other autism like behaviors. The waitlist up here to get a diagnosis was much too long and I knew she needed to start therapy as soon as possible, so I contacted the University of Washington. They were doing a study/screening of siblings that were toddlers who had brothers or sisters with autism. My parents and I took both the kids down to Seattle. It was interesting to watch both of them play in different ways during the study. I think it took about 10 minutes for the clinician to come to the conclusion that Haley was also on the spectrum. I already knew she was in my heart, but now she had a way to get services. By then I felt like I knew what needed to be done. After all, I had been living it with Tyler for a few years. I was wrong. Autism is so unique to each individual. It’s more rare in girls versus boys. Things that had worked for Ty did not work for Haley. I had to relearn, and find ways that would reach her! She also went to special-needs preschool, therapies, and other interventions. Puberty has not been easy on my girl. I know that it was hard for me, so imagine being a girl who can’t tell in words what is going on. Someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening to their body. She attended Wendler middle school this last year where she was accepted and treated with such kindness and respect that she flourished there. Both kids had a previous bad experience at a different middle school, so this was quite refreshing. It proves how important it is to have schools and staff that treat those who experience intellectual disabilities with respect and kindness. She is much happier and obviously got her feisty attitude from her mama. She loves art and animals, and she also loves singing. She likes to give her brother high-fives.  Tyler is protective of her. When they do have sibling disagreements it’s almost like watching a silent movie. They do it with as little words as possible.

Our life doesn’t look like other families but we make it work.

We have our routines and our quirks.  It’s chaotic and amazing. I am a mom, not a super hero. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Helping them be the most successful and happy they can be.  They are the ones who work the hardest. It’s about them and their health and well being.They have made some incredible leaps. I am so proud of them both. On the days that are exhausting, I think of the tiny little boy who loved to collect anything Starbucks and would make lines of cups all around the house. I think of the little girl who once wrote the word Elmo about 100 times on the wall in sharpie. I think about how far they have come, and how much they have changed me. They have made me into a better person. I am in no way close to a perfect mom, but I am braver and stronger because of them. This journey that we are on is quite the adventure. Thank you for letting us give you a little taste of our world. 

Thank you, Maria, for once again giving us a glimpse into your life… Your perspective and insights bring so much to our community!


Maria Pepperworth:

Mother, community activist and all around ROCKSTAR!