While there is no stable, universally understood concept of “normal,” most of us are raised to believe that to be fully embraced into societal norms our lives must follow a similar cycle to this – graduate from high school then college, secure a high paying job in a chosen career, get married, start a family, become fully engrossed in our children’s sports & activities, and enjoy a relaxing retirement as our adult children take their turn on an identical hamster wheel.

As an obsessive rule follower and box checker, I took great pride in following that life cycle and eagerly anticipated the rites of passage that came with motherhood. However, what I hadn’t truly prepared for were the curve balls forcefully thrown at my future plans, requiring I accept and learn to manage an ‘abnormal’ and unpredictable parenting journey.

When I first received Skyler’s autism diagnosis, I grieved the loss of the plans and expectations I had created on his behalf. After coming to terms with the severity level of his autism and uncertainty of his future, I quickly rolled up my sleeves and faced head-on the everyday realities of Skyler’s unique, individual needs. Even more glaring was the fact that, due to his diagnosis, society had instantly labeled him as disabled, abnormal, non-neurotypical / neurodiverse and essentially placed him on a completely different island than his “normal” peers.

It has always been important to me that Skyler not spend his life feeling like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Why should he or anyone like him be forced to live and follow the path to adulthood exactly as the world dictates it must be done? It saddens me that our autistic community often finds themselves left behind, ostracized, marginalized, or, at best, tolerated – particularly after entering adulthood.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve witnessed Skyler continually grow and overcome obstacles in his own way and on his own timeline, which is a level of resilience and determination I’ve never known before.

I’m no less proud of what he accomplished at ages 19 and 20 (like riding a horse and revealing his incredible ability to communicate through spelling) than I was when he took his first steps at age 3.

Skyler demonstrates daily that anything is possible when you believe in yourself and feel the unconditional love and support of others.

So, despite what Medicaid and various service providers believe, our autistic loved ones don’t lose their ability to learn and achieve new skills at age 18. They deserve the same opportunities to grow and live their best lives within a community that embraces and respects all people.

It’s time to redefine ‘normal’ – is there really such a thing? I think the world would be a better place if all focused on being the best version of ourselves.

For now, I must agree with Skyler’s shirt… “Every now and then someone AWESOME comes along – and here I am!”

Normal is boring… just be awesome instead!