This week’s Chicago North Shore Moms Meet a Mom Series highlights one North Shore mom’s raw experience as a parent with a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
April is Autism Awareness Month, and, although May is just days away, we wanted to be sure to give attention to this very important topic. That’s why this week’s Meet a Mom Series interview features a super mama who’s oldest child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Laura Epstein! The Chicago born and raised, now Glencoe resident, is also a mom of multiples who expertly manages hectic schedules for three young children whilst crafting super content for her own two blogs (more on that later)! In this Meet a Mom interview, Laura shares her very personal experience as a parent with a child of ASD. And now, Laura’s Meet a Mom interview…
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?
I’m originally from downtown Chicago. We moved from the city to Glencoe three years ago.
Child(ren) and Age(s)?
We have three sons: Ross is 6 and our twins, Jake and Josh, are 3.
Your oldest has been diagnosed with ASD. How old was he when he was diagnosed? What therapies were you able to start if any?
Ross was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder a few months before he turned 4. He had been receiving occupational therapy since he was 2.5 years old after his preschool suggested it and he started speech therapy when he was 3 or so. Shortly after his diagnosis he started working with a social worker and he has also participated in therapeutic social groups.
What was life like following the months after you learned of this diagnosis?
It was a little bit of a whirlwind. He was going through the diagnostic process while we were also in the process of moving. We were working on easing him into Glencoe while also setting up a new team of therapists and finding him a camp that he would like for the upcoming summer. We had a meeting with the district shortly after moving to qualify him for district services and we started looking at different NSSED preschool programs for the next school year. We eventually figured it all out and he settled into the suburbs much more quickly than we expected.
What is a common stereotype that the people have about children with ASD?
There’s the common stereotype that people with autism don’t talk. I absolutely had this misconception. At Ross’ 3 year checkup his pediatrician recommended that we get him on the waitlist to see a developmental pediatrician. I responded that “well we know he doesn’t have autism since he talks all the time”. I don’t remember her exact response but I didn’t catch that she thought he might have autism and I was obviously totally wrong. Not talking is not a qualifier for having autism nor does a person talking all the time mean they don’t have autism.
I also think people don’t always understand that autism is a spectrum and not a linear scale. I’m often asked where Ross is on the autism spectrum. It’s basically the “how autistic is he?” question but really one person does not have more or less autism than another person. People with ASD are incredibly diverse: there are people with autism who speak or don’t, some people have high IQs and there are those of average intelligence, some may require significant support throughout their lives whereas others will function independently. Different people may show their autism in very different ways. Also, you can’t cure autism nor should we be trying to. A person with autism is not a broken neurotypical person and we need to accept neurodiversity within our population.
There are many families who are just learning about an ASD diagnosis in their child. What advice do you have for these families?
Start therapy as soon as possible. The more you do early on the less you may have to do later. In the year after Ross’ diagnosis we did 10-12 hours a week (not including a NSSED blended preschool) including a social group, occupational therapy, speech and social work. He now does a few hours each week which leaves time for friends and activities. Also, find experts and ask them all your questions. Ross had an Occupational Therapist (OT) early on who I could rely on to answer questions about what we should be working on at home, what we should be doing to support him at school and anything else I could think of.
Can you recommend websites, links, support groups, etc.?
Finding a support group can be very helpful. I was in one last year but it has since disbanded unfortunately. My husband goes to the North Suburban Special Needs Dads Meetup when work allows and he finds it helpful. North Suburban Parents of Special Needs Kids Facebook Group is also a great resource for information and support. The Inspired Treehouse and Lemon Lime Adventures are my two favorite blogs to check out. Profectum (profectum.org) also has a great, free parent toolbox that has a lot of great strategies for interacting with your child. For more information on ASD go here: http://www.autism-society.org.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I was on the US Sailing Team and went to the 2004 Olympic Trials in sailing.
Favorite mom advice for moms with a child or children of developmental differences?
We stick to a schedule as much as possible. While there are some variations day to day and week to week we try to be as consistent as possible. It’s particularly important for Ross and really easier for everyone to have a very predictable schedule.
Favorite place to take the kids?
We love to take the kids to the Botanic Garden and just over to Friends Park in Glencoe too.
Can you recommend a children’s book that helps children understand a child with ASD?
The Life of A Dog Living in a Cat’s World by Marla M. Schachtel is my favorite book for children. It’s written by a north shore resident and I think it can help to really understand what it’s like for someone to live with ASD.
Can you recommend an adult book that helps parents understand a child with ASD?
A perfect day with the family is….
Heading to the beach or the pool, or a BBQ in the backyard.
Anyone special you’d like to thank for helping you through parenthood?
My husband is amazing. He’s a great partner in this parenting adventure. We have four grandparents that we are lucky to have nearby and very involved in the kids’ lives.
We are also so thankful to live in a community that values full inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities. We have had great experiences with schools (D35 and NSSED) and also the JCC, Keshet programs and our amazingly inclusive synagogue, Am Shalom, are all part of the reason Ross has thrived since moving to Glencoe. These organizations, and the people behind them, provide amazing services to those with autism and their families on the north shore.
Are you involved in a business venture, a local organization, a creative endeavor, or in the corporate world? Please share!
Yes! I have a blog, The Messy Bun Life. I talk about parenting and being a special needs mom. I also have an online clothing boutique, The Messy Bun Boutique, which features women’s clothing and accessories.
Do you have any advice for moms who have a child with developmental differences and wish to get back into the working world?
Find something that works for you and your family even if you need to step out of your comfort zone. Then be prepared to adjust your work as necessary. Prior to having kids I was a personal trainer but I knew I didn’t want to go back to a job with a locked in schedule and direct time commitment to clients. It just wouldn’t work for our family. Instead, starting my boutique meant that I could work from home, control my time and could carry clothing I loved as a mom. It’s worked well for our family except that when I started I thought I would do a lot of in person events (vendor fairs, etc). The changes in schedule and time away from home was throwing Ross off so I adjusted to an almost entirely online business and we’ve all been much happier.
What’s on the horizon (with respect to your endeavor; future plans or goals)?
My blog is a labor of love that’s really just getting started. I’m hoping to make it into a real resource and also a fun place to “hang out” for parents of kids with special needs and those who don’t have kids without special needs too.