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Running into Autism

Jenifer DeMattia

By Katie Staines

There I was, sitting in my boss’s office yet again explaining why I needed to leave early to take my son to his doctor’s appointment for the 15th time in a month. As I sat there, staring at him, I just started sobbing that uncontrollable ugly cry. The kind of cry that you wish no one would see but can't hold back. It was as if I couldn't get the words out. Ashamed to ask for more time off to take my son to yet another doctors appointment. How could anyone possibly understand what I was going through? It barely made sense to me. Finally, I got myself together and took a deep breath. "Are you ok?" my boss asked, my hands covering my face. I managed to get out something and said, "I just feel like I'm running a marathon. I feel like I can't keep going on like this, something needs to change."

That was a couple of years ago and it was in that ugly sobbing mess that something beautiful was ignited inside my soul. I already felt like I was running a marathon everyday with work, doctors, paper work, insurance companies, and researching therapies. I literally felt like I was going insane. Finally, it was just all too much and I had to escape. It was time that "something's gotta change" was about to happen and quite literally the doors to the unknown swung open and off I went on a cold February morning out into the dark of the early morning just me, myself and I out there running for sanity. It was right in that moment that I decided to run a marathon. Not just any marathon but the Marine Corp marathon. Yes - this was the one, the same one I had signed up for in pervious years but never made it to the starting line. I was too chicken to commit all the way through to the actual run. This time would be different, this time it was to honor of my son and prove to myself that I could do it. The idea of starting the journey to 26.2 during the most difficult time in my life seemed a bit out there but like Seal said "we're never going to survive unless we get a little crazy". I wanted to survive and this was the something that had been missing.

What started off as surviving became thriving. The running brought me back to life, even if it was just for those moments that I was out pounding the pavement, I felt alive. I could breath again, feel again. I could continue my day with more peace, more hope, more joy. I could feel myself defrosting from the lack of strength. It's not easy to push yourself mentally, emotionally and physically during a marathon or marathon training, but that’s what it takes to fight Autism. It takes everything you have and more. The process of reaching the finish line takes time. You can't get to mile 26 before you run mile 3 and mile 10. If you put in the disciplined work results will follow. I had to prove to myself that in time this does pay off. There is a silver lining in this stormy Autism cloud. Don't even try to figure out Autism, just accept it and embrace the journey. It's a long road full of uncertainty. It will have countless twists and turns into many complex directions.

I trained solo, in the rain, snow, wind, heat, cold, whatever it was, I was there, running. I didn't make excuses for why I couldn't run that day. There wasn't such a thing as too late or too early. I made the commitment and didn't look back. These runs were my saving grace. It taught me how to pace myself, be in the moment, one mile at a time and to fight through the self-doubt while always moving forward and only looking back to see how far I have come. It starts with a simple decision to just stop thinking so much and do it. Run with no fear. I would pray, cry, sing, and laugh. I wasn't just running, I was dancing. I would take these times and make them my own. I would watch the sunrise or sunset, see the first flakes of snow glittering under the streetlights, letting the tension and the consuming thoughts of not being enough, not doing enough release. Out here there's no disabilities just abilities and everyday that I can look at my son and see his strengths is a day that was successful. Now I can truly see his progress and know that everything I'm doing now will, in turn, pay off in the future. Then we win every time and cross the finish line together. Of course the journey wouldn't be complete without all our family and friends cheering us on and encouraging us. As we continue to put one foot in front of the other, we see there is power in Autism and there is power inside each child, each family, teacher, and community that is touched by its reality. It is truly my son who gave me the courage to start and finish strong. 

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