Seattle mother Katrina Davis felt helpless and despaired when she first learned that her son, Arthur, was diagnosed with autism. However, Davis did know one thing for certain: she wanted not to fix her son, but to make him more able.
For single mother Joy Gehner Daniel, hearing that her daughter, Audrey, had been diagnosed with autism meant making an important decision.
“I remember in the beginning making a conscious decision to not worry what people thought,” Gehner Daniel said. “Overall, reactions from other people had been overwhelmingly more positive.”
Gehner Daniel, Davis and Nikki Mahoney, a mother of two children with autism, were featured speakers on the “Families of Individuals with Autism” panel, as part of the Voices of Autism event hosted by Seattle Pacific University’s School of Psychology, Family, and Community.
The panel was part of a series of events during Voices of Autism, which included a resource fair and presentations from professionals who work with individuals with autism.
The panel, moderated by Lynn Vigo, a family therapist at Seattle Children’s Hospital Autism Center, addressed topics such as dealing with an autism diagnosis, difficulties in raising children with autism and finding support and time for self-care.
The panelists agreed that it was a difficult time for themselves and their families when they first learned their child or children had autism.
“It was a change in direction,” Mahoney said. “I didn’t really know what autism was, and I had no idea how differently it could present itself with having two children on both ends of the spectrum.”
But while Mahoney said that while receiving diagnoses for her two sons, Mac and Freddie, was difficult, navigating evaluations and forms for services was even more challenging and frustrating after initially learning about the diagnosis.
Davis, a family advocate at Seattle Children’s Hospital Autism Center, expressed similar sentiments, as she called the initial diagnosis for her now 17-year-old son Arthur “scary.”
She also recounted the difficulties she faced in getting proper treatment for her son. For instance, a commonly recommended therapy, known as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), was not covered by insurance at the time when she had first needed it. In order for Arthur to receive ABA therapy, Davis and her family relied on donations for her son.
“I learned about grace, I learned about grief, and I had a lot of fear,” Davis said. “I turned to friends and family, and I kind of stopped battling with autism [and realized] it’s Arthur, it’s my son.”
The mothers on the panel also stressed the importance of finding support and taking time for self care.
“It’s almost like food; you need to be around other parents to hear what they’re going through,” Davis said.
Wanting to create a support network for parents like her, Mahoney created a Facebook page called “Autism Moms of Seattle,” which now has over 750 mothers of children with autism in the group.
Davis, Gehner Daniel and Mahoney also highlighted the vital nature of self-care and what they each choose to do in order to take care of themselves.
Gehner Daniel described how taking the time to drink a hot chocolate and journal is effective self-care for herself, as well as the occasional pedicure.
Mahoney also spoke about how time spent away from her family also helped, as she described taking yearly trips alone to her mother’s home in the United Kingdom, where Mahoney is originally from, as a way to relax for a short period of time.
“[Self-care is] something you have to learn to do, but it’s not only good for you, it’s good for your children,” Mahoney said.
Davis also added that, in the early stages of her son’s diagnosis, art and music allowed for her to become calm quickly.
The panel served as a means for the public to further understand the perspectives and challenges of children living with autism through the stories shared by the three mothers.
“Autism is Arthur,” Davis said. “He’s autism, and that’s okay. Autism’s not a bad word.”