Dear Tyson: A mother's letter to her son during Autism Awareness Month
You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I loved you the minute I first laid eyes on you, and I couldn’t wait to introduce you to everything the world had to offer. Your father and I were so excited for what your future had in store, and we knew that one day, you were going to be a basketball star like your parents. But you know what they say about best-laid plans – you had plans of your own.
As you started to grow, it became more difficult for you to sleep on your own. Not knowing what was really going on inside of you, we tried everything to help calm you down. You also struggled with your speech, and you weren’t always able to tell us what you needed. It wasn’t until you turned 3 that your pediatrician said a word that had never crossed my mind when I was pregnant or planning for a child: autism. He wanted us to test you for autism.
It shook my world. I cried. I had no idea what that word meant or how we had arrived at this point. The next year, you were provisionally diagnosed with ADHD because you couldn’t sit still to be tested for autism. We started medication to treat your ADHD and to help you sleep at night. You were frequently kicked out of daycare because you were so energetic, and others didn’t know how to handle you. And that’s how we lived for the next 10 years.
In 2021, when you were in seventh grade and had returned to in-person school after the pandemic, your struggles became even more apparent. Your dad and I agreed to try again to test you for autism. We understood a little more about it and a lot more about you. We saw how you were learning and how you lagged behind with some activities other children your age seemed to easily master. Sometimes I feel guilty for waiting to test you again, thinking things might get better with age, but going through the process was one of the best things for our family.
It wasn’t until April 28, 2022, that we received the official diagnosis: ADHD, anxiety and autism. The trifecta. I thought I was prepared because we knew – we always knew – but when we heard the words, your future flashed before my eyes. I was relieved to have answers and felt confident we would come up with a plan, but also concerned others might judge you or treat you differently because of what they couldn’t see or understand. I, however, was prepared to do everything I could to make sure you could live the life you wanted with no restrictions. A life with opportunities, excitement, new beginnings and hope. For our family, autism wasn’t a diagnosis, but a breakthrough, an awakening and a chance to start over.
Over the past year, you have been able to find your own way in a world that’s not always welcoming and inclusive, and I am so proud of you for owning your truth and being yourself. When we joined Special Olympics after learning of your new path, I hoped you would find friends with whom you could share experiences in a fun, safe space. I never would have imagined that watching your team win a state championship would be as exciting as any championship I won. It may not be the basketball career your dad and I envisioned, but it is part of your story, and I couldn’t be prouder.
You have so many amazing skills others don’t get to experience like your dad and I do. You are able to quickly pick-up on anything laid in front of you, are a whiz with computers and technology, and have the ability to recognize every flag of the world (this is not a skill you get from me). Even more importantly, you are very caring and loyal, and you would do anything for a friend. When you had to serve a suspension for stepping in front of a classmate who was being bullied, I learned a lot about your character and your peers and teachers did, too.
As a DE&I practitioner at Bread Financial, I am able to carry out my purpose in my daily work. Every day, I am privileged to fight for the rights and inclusivity of marginalized groups who deserve the opportunity to find a career that allows them to be themselves and prosper. I am fortunate to be able to share my own experiences with others to drive empathy, understanding, acceptance and change. It is rewarding to work for a company that truly values diversity, equity and inclusion and is working to do the right thing for all.
People say you can’t be friends with your children, but Tyson, you are my best friend. You have been with me through thick and thin and have seen me at my best and my worst. You are my travel buddy, up for going anywhere at any time to see new places. You are the love of my life and my greatest success story. My proudest moment.
April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and this month (but also every month), I get to celebrate YOU. One year ago, we entered a new chapter in both of our lives, and I am so glad to be on this adventure with you. You make me a better mom, a better person and a more compassionate human being. You’ve taught me to live my life to the fullest and move through the world like no one is watching, ignoring what others think. Keep being YOU, my sweet boy, and never stop, even when it’s hard and you feel alone. No one knows what the future holds, but I know I will always be right by your side. You, my son, are my purpose.
Tez and her family reside in Columbus, Ohio. For anyone affected by autism or looking to learn more, here are a few resources she recommends:
- Differently Wired: A Parent’s Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope by Deborah Reber
- The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
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