This week, the autism community celebrated Haley Moss, a young woman who overcame nonverbal autism and very low expectations from doctors to graduate from law school, take her oath of attorney and begin her career this week at a law firm.
I found Haley on Twitter and began following her. As you can imagine, many Twitter followers wanted to know how she has achieved so much success.
She stressed two things:
1. Her success has not been a straight line. Like every one kid with autism, she took steps back along her path to forward progress. And even now, she said there are tons of things she still struggles with and is working to improve.
2. Her parents embraced her diagnosis and walked a different path with her, never looking back or wishing things were different.
Haley shared on Twitter that after her diagnosis, one of the first resources her parents received was the essay Welcome to Holland, by Emily Perl Kingsley. The author and disability activist wrote it to describe her experience with her son's Down syndrome diagnosis, but it nails autism, too.
Read it below and let me know if you can get through it without crying, because I sure couldn't. Oh man, it brings up all the feels ...
Welcome to Holland
By Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this ...
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in a says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around ... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills ... and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away ... because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But ... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!