This is my life

This is my life; one I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But it’s different from most. I have what most people strive for; a beautiful family, a nice home (ok, so I’d change half a dozen things about it, but who’s counting?!), a loving and supportive husband and 3 beautiful children; 2 boys and a little girl. However, what a lot of people don’t know is the struggles I live each day. My boys, Ty who is 10 and Max who is 8, have autism.

I knew when Ty was a baby that something was different.

I bounced the idea of autism back and forth in my mind but I hadn’t even changed a diaper before he was born so when did I become an expert on something so foreign to me?! My first and only idea of autism was in Dustin Hoffman’s amazing portrayal of Rain Man. But how could that be my child?

I anxiously mentioned my thoughts to his doctor and close family but everyone said these differences were “just a phase”. The ever nagging Mother’s Instinct, however, could not be ignored. A trusted friend (and pediatric audiologist) confirmed my suspicion and so our journey began. The assessment took a year to get and, although we knew the answer, having the “official” diagnosis just before Ty’s 3rd birthday brought a year’s worth of constant tears; mourning over the loss of what I thought my child should be. Sounds dramatic, I know.image2

We put Ty in therapies that were recommended to us and spent most days going from appointment to appointment. We sold our house in an impressive fashion and moved closer to a school that promised to help our son.

During the resettling of our new life, our son Max was also diagnosed with autism which came as a shock to all of us.

I don’t know if it was denial or the fact that they are polar opposites of each other (how could they have the same diagnosis?!) that surprised us so much. We were more prepared this time around, at least. But for anyone who knows anything about this disorder, no two people are the same. What worked for one definitely didn’t work for the other.

As a parent, my biggest challenge is the unknown. I have no clue how far they will excel or what the future holds for them. Who will take care of them when we’re gone? Will their sister and her husband want to be their caregivers (one can hope!) or will they be lucky enough to find the loves of their lives?

Personally, my daily struggles are watching my friends go about their lives with their neuro-typical children and it tears me up. It’s not envy or jealousy but a lot of anxiety and self blame. Was this my fault? Did I do something to cause their autism? While I know on a rational level none of this was anyone’s fault, as a parent I think most of these sane thoughts are thrown out the window when emotions take over.

A few years ago I started to let go of what my life was supposed to be and started focusing on the blessings I had. I was pregnant with my daughter and my boys abilities had surpassed our expectations. Ty wants to be a teacher (or a movie director; that changes weekly) and Max has decided he’s going to MIT to become an engineer to build robots. I am in awe of their spirit and their passion for everything they do. They are truly a gift to my soul. They have made me a better person.

I met my best friend Lara in 2008, who also has a daughter with autism (in fact, Ty and Mia have decided to get married when they grow up and have already planned the whole event!), and we created Free 2 B U Kids.

We wanted a place where children ages 4-16 could come and have fun and not be judged by one another. A place where they could be carefree, have fun and use their skills and imagination all at the same time!

We offer Lego Building and Sensory Arts and the children just absolutely love it (who are we kidding here, we love it just as much!). Lara and I, both being ABA Therapists and mothers of children with disabilities, knew we needed to bring this program to the West Island community. The support we have had from everyone has been unbelievable and the children have built the most wonderful relationships with one another. It has become a second family to us all.

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There are still a lot of tears and a lot of the unknown which is the scariest part of it all. But I have amazing support and some wonderful people around me. I don’t know what the future holds but I know that my kids are happy and, for now, that’s all that matters to me. I am proud of what we provide for them which is love and security and the confidence to know they can do anything they put their minds to. I am who I am because of them.

-Andrea Altman-Levy

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