National Autism Awareness Month- April 2020

By:  Suzanne Cook

When Covid 19 took NYC by storm, I must confess I was as worried as everyone else.  I worried about my mom and my mother in law and my upstairs neighbor; like many of my mom-friends, I was worried about school.  What would we do without it?  How would my children learn, be occupied, be kept busy, out of trouble, off their screens?? But I had one more concern: I have a special needs child, Jake who is 14 years old. And I knew that zoom school for him would mean zoom school for me too. What I thought would be an annoying and arduous part of my day actually became something I have begun to look forward to. Jake has always been what I would call a kaleidoscope.

When sitting with Jake in his classes I was pleasantly surprised to see how much Jake knows and how he was capable of settling into his new routine more easily than I would have suspected.   This ability to glimpse into the window of Jake’s world has become an easy reminder of just how much Jake is capable of, despite his challenges.

Jake was diagnosed with PDD (pervasive development disorder) when he was just two years old.  After the shock and despair, I got to work with therapies, early intervention, and researched and found schools that would best serve Jake’s needs. Despite all my husband and I have tried to do, tough days still abound, where Jake’s rigidity is so frustrating and his compulsive need to ask the same question over and over can be overwhelming, to say the least.

As a businesswoman and self-starter, where problem-solving is uppermost in all that I do, having a special needs child is one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences. I often feel that while trying to capture life experiences and convert them into teaching moments, it is actually Jake who is doing the teaching and handing the book of life lessons back to me on a silver platter.

On National Autism Month, I want to share with all those out there, that so many lessons are learned from these wonderful special needs children.  One very valuable lesson I have learned from Jake is being able to take pleasure in simple pleasures that many others may take for granted. Several summers ago through many tantrums and tears (both mine and Jake’s) Jake finally learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle.  For my family, this was a huge success because we could now take a family bike ride, and now, during corona-time, this skill has become invaluable and we treasure our family’s ability to ride together as often as we can.

Another lesson we have learned from Jake is to truly celebrate people and their likes and dislikes.  Over the years, Jake has taught himself to read and we have learned that he loves to do research on travel, fun places to visit, and exciting things to do on vacation. Some of our best family trips have been inspired by Jake’s research.

Lastly what I always try to keep in mind about Jake, and others with special needs, on everyday, but especially in honor of National Autism Month, is that his inability to express himself clearly and articulately does not mean he or others like him are unaware of the things around them and it most certainly does not mean they don’t have feelings; because they do.  Jake and other children like him are loving and wonderful people with so much to learn and so much to teach those around them.

It is my hope for Jake that his ability to be hyper-aware will allow him to find his place in the world where his skills can be celebrated. And that he will be able to contribute positively and find a space and place in this world to contribute to those around him and find the happiness he so deserves.  Jake- we love you!

Suzanne Cook is a mom to Jake and Jonah as well as businesswoman and entrepreneur.  She lives in Manhattan with her husband and 2 amazing sons.  In honor of Curlee Girlee Suzanne has graciously provided us with a great hair tip:  “Always a great idea to use a hair mask in the shower and comb through the hair thoroughly. It will keep those tangles away”!

Thanks Suzanne for sharing your heartwarming story during National Autism Month!  And your great hair tips as well!

To hear more inspirational stories- listen to our podcast with CNN Hero, Founder of Kids Kicking Cancer, Rabbi G.

Atara Twersky, Author of Curlee Girlee is a TODAY Show Style Icon. Her mission is to teach girls to embrace the beautiful curls they have with power and confidence. Join us as together we change the “coarse” of curly hair. Don’t forget to check out our recent article on What to Do or Say if Your Daughter is Showing Signs of Hating Her Curly Hair.

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