I’m interviewing Andrea Andrade, who is the mother of 3 children, ages 22, 18, and 16. Her son Teddy was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old, so she has 17 years of experience of being an autism mom. She talks about receiving an autism diagnosis, motherhood, self-care, having an adult child with autism, and amazing advice for mothers at different stages in the autism journey with their children.
Getting a Diagnosis
Andrea’s 18-year-old son, Teddy, was diagnosed with autism right after his second birthday. It has now been seventeen years since his diagnosis. She talks about how she first knew something was off and her experience with getting a diagnosis.
“When you have your first child, you think that your child is so smart and you see them excelling and reaching all of the milestones. So, with my second child, I always had this idea that there was a baseline of where he needed to be and he wasn’t reaching that.”
She talks about how a pediatrician caused her to miss out on a year of early intervention and how Teddy was finally diagnosed with autism at two years old. Once they had the diagnosis, they got started with resources for him right away. She immediately started advocating for him and began learning all things autism. She spent her time trying to find ways to make his life better and to get him any services available.
What Resources Did She Begin With?
She immediately got referrals from his neurologist and the regional center in their area. Teddy was diagnosed when the economy was good and the regional center had more money to spend on services. He was able to get ABA in their home eight hours a day, five days a week in the beginning, which literally reprogrammed his brain.
“Looking back, ABA was THE most effective treatment that he had.”
How Do You Get Services For Your Child?
Once he hit school age, Andrea still fought for private ABA. She learned early to fight. It became something she always had to do and people eventually knew that she was going to keep fighting. Andrea did not make herself popular, but she was willing to do that. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer. There were times when they did not want Teddy to stay in mainstream school. They also tried a couple of times to move him to classes she didn’t feel was appropriate, so she hired lawyers and advocates and it was a hard battle.
“If you need to get what you feel you need, you have to learn to understand that it’s okay to not be popular. In the end, it really makes the biggest difference in your child’s life and you won’t care what they think of you. It’s not a fun thing to have to do, but the benefits and reward far outweigh how difficult it was.”
Processing the Diagnosis
His diagnosis broke her heart to the point where she was unbelievably filled with grief and sadness. She took it really hard. To know that her son was certain to live his life with a disability took her to places she never thought she would go to or return from.
She was able to sustain herself through the joy of the baby steps; with each tiny baby step, or a full night of sleep, or new food. Each joy was so immense that it brought her out of crippling depression and sadness, and allowed her to view her son’s autism as the biggest joy and blessing of her life.
Why Do We Talk About Self-Care?
Andrea wasn’t taking care of herself because she felt that any moment she took to take care of herself was a moment that was taken away from helping Teddy. She felt a lot of guilt doing anything for herself. She felt like she belonged in an exhausting bubble of sadness and hard work.
One day, her daughter kind of woke her up and said, “Mommy, you’re not doing well and taking care of yourself. Vinny and I need you too.” It was a wake up call because her daughter was asking her to do and be better.
So, she began a journey of self-care that brought her to where she is now. It was key to give herself permission to put herself first. She started to believe it was selfish to not put yourself first and realized that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you really do a disservice for your children.
This led to her belief that even “little things like red lipstick can make a world of difference.”
How To Prevent Mom-Guilt
Remember that you can only do your best. We are all doing what we can do. Don’t feel bad about that at all. We have been given a challenge and we have to face it the best we can. When your child is taking a test, and you tell them to just “do their best,” we should be giving ourselves that same permission with our parenting. Be proud of yourself that you are doing the best you can.
What Has Changed in Her Life Now?
Andrea was divorced seven years ago and is remarried now to the love of her life. She talks about the factors involved that damaged her first relationship and what she has learned from it and changed in her new relationship.
Teddy graduated from high school with his diploma. He is now receiving independent living skills services in the home and they work on things that aren’t innate for him, like laundry, shopping lists, and making simple meals.
“Your goal as a parent is to help them be as independent as possible.”
Advice for Parents with a New Diagnosis
“First, always try to nurture yourself and allow yourself to grieve for the child you thought you would have. The sadness and fear are normal feelings. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself some credit for the hard work you are doing.”
Andrea fought for her son and it was hard, but he is okay and she is okay. So there is a lot of hope. Each moment that they progress, the joy is something we are so lucky to experience. Autism changed her and made her better. “My son is perfect the way he is. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Andrea also talks in this episode about what it was like for her children to grow up with a brother that has special needs, she gives amazing advice for single moms that want to find someone, and describes in-depth how she is able to give her adult son independence while also still protecting him.
- You have to learn how to advocate for your child. Even if it doesn’t feel good to make yourself unpopular, the benefits of advocating far outweigh the negatives. In the end, it really makes the biggest difference in your child’s life and you won’t care what they think of you.
- Whenever you are feeling mom-guilt, remember that you can only do your best. We are all doing what we can do. We have been given a challenge and we have to face it the best we can.
- If you do not take care of yourself first, you are doing a disservice to your children because you can’t fully be there for them either. Give yourself permission to put yourself first.
- Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel everything, and to grieve the diagnosis. Sadness and fear are normal feelings to have. So give yourself permission to fully process everything.
- You have so much hope. It doesn’t happen overnight, but change will happen. Each moment that your child progresses will bring you joy and help you to keep going. Autism is a blessing and it will change you for the better.