Sunday, April 29, 2007

better when we're together

After 14 years of marriage, Christy and Jeff Garner say they are beating the odds.

About four in five couples who have a child with autism get divorced, according to the National Autism Association.

"We're doing really well, then," Jeff said chuckling.

Autism is a great strain on all families affected by the disorder and the Garners are no different.

Their 4-year-old daughter, Josie, was diagnosed three years ago with moderate to severe autism, a developmental disorder that impacts social interaction and communication skills.

This little girl loves to cuddle with her dog, Baxter, listen to music by the Cheetah Girls and shop for, buy and wear any color of Crocs shoes.

But she has developmental and emotional needs that put a strain on family, finances, careers and relationships for her parents and big sister.

"Stress on parents of children with autism is higher than in parents of children with other disabilities," Dr. Diane Edwards told a group of families at a Casper Autism Society meeting.

"Your kids do things that embarrass you," said the Casper developmental pediatrician. "And the stress becomes even worse, when everyone thinks they have the solutions to your problems."

The time and expense of caring for a child with autism is another strain. According to the National Autism Association, a family will spend an estimated $40,000 to $70,000 a year on therapies and resources for a child with autism.

Several families we know who've been drafted into life with autism haven't made it and it is easy to understand why.

Jimmy and I feel very blessed that our relationship has not been torn apart by the girls' ASD diagnoses. There have been times of tremendous strain and isolation from everyone we know and from one another (despite living under the same roof). The toll of the daily stress is impossible to measure, but almost 6 1/2 years into our lives with the girls we are still soldiering on together. We get about one date a year and we never have any money for extras, but we have found ways to keep our sanity and keep our relationship in pretty good shape. The hardest part was letting go of the way we thought our lives would look as a family and as a couple and accepting that our lives do not resemble the lives of most people's that we meet. Discovering contentment in the little joys that come with living in the now and harnessing inner strength we never knew we had are what keeps us going. And never forgetting how to laugh. We could not survive without being able to laugh in the face of some of the most unimaginably dark times.

As autism awareness month comes to a close, I want to remind people that behind every child with autism there is a family trying to keep it together. If you know someone whose family is affected by ASD, I ask that in addition to loving on their kiddos, love on the moms and dads too. They need your patience, encouragement, and support as well.

On May 1st, Autism Awareness Month will be over, but for the families who are affected by the disorder, it never is.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12


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