Friday, July 12, 2013

The Beauty Of Acceptance

Seven years ago I started the hardest journey I would ever have to face. I went through all the phases of grief. Some people disagree and think it is downright wrong to grieve when your child is diagnosed with Autism. But I did. I still do every now and again. I had my idea of what life would be like when I had children. I had expectations of what my child would be doing. I believed he would be able to do anything he wanted. That the sky was the limit. It is normal to imagine the future with your unborn children. And it is perfectly healthy and normal for a person to grieve when that future you planned on is not the reality. So yes, I grieved. My husband grieved. And every time my son regresses, or when he hits himself over and over again and cries because he can't do the things that he wants to, I grieve again. I think it is a healthy way of dealing with the cards we have been dealt. I don't grieve him or who he is. I grieve the expectations and dreams I had that will not come to pass. I grieve the struggles he will always have.

In the 3 years after Drew was diagnosed, I had gone through some terribly hard struggles coming to terms with our new reality. Those first few years were the toughest. The learning curve was steep. The depression was great. My husband and I were just barely treading water. And we weren't connecting. We just had nothing left to give each other at the end of the day. The minimal sleep we were getting, combined with the therapies that seemed to be doing little more than showing us how steep our climb to help Drew had become was just too much to bear. I dealt with my feelings in unhealthy ways. So did he.

Healing and acceptance is a process. It does not happen overnight. But eventually the healing came through the support of others who share our journey, and finally finding a church that could meet Andrew's needs so that we could get our spiritual and emotional tank filled.

I decided in April of 2009 to memorialize my son and our journey with Autism in a tattoo. It was the final step in the grieving process for me. The final piece of acceptance and embracing the journey that changed me to my core.

Below is a journal entry I wrote when I had decided on the design:

I chose to represent my son as a sea turtle. Sea turtles are water creatures. Drew loves the water and would spend all day in it if I let him. They also retreat into their shell to escape the world and feel safe. This is not unlike my son, who often retreats into his own mind to cut himself off from others.

A sea turtle is considered a courageous creature because it makes progress only when it sticks its neck out, and moves forward with patient, steady flow in order to achieve the desired results. This is much like our children with Autism who must step out of their comfort zone to learn and tend to master things at a slower pace than those around them.

Sea turtles were thought by the Mayans to be associated with music. My son loves music and is at his happiest when music is playing for him.

The Autism puzzle piece design, which is the world's symbol for Autism awareness, is on the turtle's back. Drew will be carrying the weight of his Autism throughout his life, and will have to work that much harder to overcome his daily struggles with it. He will have times of overwhelming improvement and mastery, and times of regression where he will retreat into his shell and need time away from the judgement of the world.

In the tattoo, the turtle is out of his shell in a swimming motion, progressing through life in a courageous manner. This is how I will always see my son. He will always have Autism, but it is only a part of him. Same as with the turtle as the puzzle pieces are only on the shell.

There are 2 hearts that are negative space through the turtle's shell. My heart, and Drew's. Connected. Intertwined forever.

Rarely a day goes by that I don't get a comment from a random stranger about my tattoo. Wanting to know the meaning and saying how beautiful it is. I tell them what it means to me, and every time I do, my heart heals a little more with the awareness it is spreading. This is the beauty that came from embracing the journey that I had never planned on taking. 


  1. Beautiful, Wendy. I saw on a friend's post (he's a composer), that an 8 year old, totally nonverbal boy with autism started singing! His teacher started singing questions to him and he would answer in song! Amazing! Music truly is a universal language :)
    I have so enjoyed your blog . . . you are a very wise young woman. And, as a mother of a son with special needs, I know you take life one day at a time, but, you are also planning for your son's future. It is only natural to search out any and all new ideas that may help draw him out. As my sweet mother used to say, "It's a sorry old hen that won't scratch for her baby chicks"! (You may have to ask your grandfather what that means :)

    1. Absolutely Dyann. :) Always trying new and creative ways to help both my guys. That is amazing about the 8 year old boy. SO true. Music is really amazing for my guys. Hugs to you!

  2. I am glad to see your design. My son is 11 and has autism. I was thinking of getting a turtle tattoo with puzzle pieces to represent him (his nickname is turtle) and the autism that he lives with. Thanks for sharing.