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Autism Moms: We Just Do It!


This article was contributed by Katie Holler, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in the Eastern Region.

I am the mother of five daughters ages 7 to 13. Four of them have Autism Spectrum Disorder. When people ask me “How do you do it?,” I usually respond: “I just do it!”

You might recognize my slogan, borrowed from NIKE Inc., the athletic gear company. NIKE introduced “JUST DO IT” in 1988, and it was quickly seen everywhere: shirts, outdoor billboards, print media, and even graffiti art. “JUST DO IT” was meant as a motivational slogan for athletes and non-athletes alike, and it is definitely an empowering phrase.

Yet, the response “I just do it” might lead a person to believe that I am “winging it” or “flying by the seat of my pants.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Each of my daughters has different challenges, preferences, etc. I have found that my life requires an extensive amount of planning, with multiple contingency plans for “what-if” scenarios. Sometimes a quick response or exit strategy is needed for certain situations in our day. I focus on being proactive in preventing and solving problems as well as remaining consistent and structured with most of our day. However, some days, no amount of planning or preparation can prepare me for what the day’s events will hold.

As I was thinking about how to explain my attitude and efforts as a parent of multiple children on the autism spectrum, I thought about the core attributes I try to embrace. I attempt to focus on having patience, being forgiving, and embracing a sense of humor. It doesn’t come easy for me to keep my focus on these attributes. Some days, I find I am successful at incorporating all three, but other days, I struggle to incorporate one. Like every parent, I try my best.

It has often been said, “Patience is a virtue.” Patience is something we all wish to have, yet to acquire it, we need to have experiences that allow us to develop it. I think that I need to have patience not just for others, but for myself as well. What mother in the world has not ever had a regret or second thought about a parenting decision? I think it’s safe to say we all experience that. We may have this idea that we have to respond with perfection to every challenge, every obstacle. The reality is that our humanness does not equate with perfection. We just do the best we can with the knowledge we have. We must be patient with ourselves, and we must strive to be patient with others. Sometimes that can be a challenge. Life is frustrating, and situations can be frustrating. Not acknowledging that would be unrealistic. When we choose to be patient with others, we have the opportunity to turn a situation around for the better. Patience is truly a form of kindness. Being patient with ourselves and others will strengthen relationships and help us maintain a positive attitude.

Forgiveness is something we may struggle with, whether it is forgiving ourselves or others. It is difficult not to emotionally respond to a situation or person we feel has hurt us. We may replay in our minds something we ourselves or someone else did. We can become focused on it, and it can perpetuate feelings of negativity and bring us greater frustration. I have struggled with this myself. I have had individuals make hurtful comments to me or offer their unsolicited and insensitive advice about my daughters and their autism. These situations are hurtful. The reality is that if I do not choose to forgive the individual and their actions, I will carry the pain with me, and it will affect me and those around me. Forgiveness can happen inwardly. In other words, forgiveness of actions or comments does not have to occur via external interaction with the involved person. Many times, I have not ever received an “I am sorry.” I have made up my mind to “chalk up” the actions or comments of an individual as a lack of their understanding, experience, and sensitivity. These are things that I have no control over. I do, however, have control over whether I allow those words or actions to affect me. My analysis is, I have so much more I need to put my energy into that I do not have the time to think about this and try to fix it. I will say to myself, “I forgive them.” And then I keep moving.

A sense of humor is an essential ingredient to a happy and peaceful life. Some days lend themselves to humor more than others. Some days, discouragement and tears rule my world. When one of those days descends with its clouds and rain, I try to remember that it is just one day and that tomorrow is on its way. Fostering opportunities to laugh will help you to enjoy your life more. I have found watching comedies to help increase my “laugh factor.” I also try to be around people who are positive and have a good sense of humor. I have also found that my children provide great comic relief in their own way. Cultivating an environment of laughter is important, because it has the potential to reduce stress. My girls enjoy watching “America’s Home Videos,” so every Sunday at 7 p.m., our home erupts with loud laughter. Find opportunities to use and grow your sense of humor. Laughter is your best ally!

Life for all of us autism parents is busy and full of challenges. We all deserve recognition for the hard work and selfless love we show to our children. I think the reality is that “WE ALL JUST DO IT,” and we do it the best way we know how.

Katie Holler can be reached at 252-756-1316 or

Read more

For more mothers’ perspectives on autism parenting, please check out Parenting Across the Autism Spectrum, available in the ASNC Bookstore:

As two experienced mothers of children, now adults, with autism, Maureen Morrell and Ann Palmer have taken some time to reflect on their experiences. Though their sons are on opposite ends of the autism spectrum, they have found that the lessons they have learned over the years are remarkably similar and apply to all parents. Each chapter presents general points on the topic in question, which are then richly illustrated by the authors’ own personal perspectives and recollections. The authors discuss the journey of parenting from the initial diagnosis to beginning to let go of their adult children. The authors offer consolation and understanding by revealing their own feelings throughout the journey, coupled with practical advice and a possible glimpse into the future, which is often far more bright than new parents may suspect.

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  1. Patrick Fox says:

    You are truly an inspiring person. Your positive attitude and ability to handle life\’s challenges with grace, strength, patience and a sense of humor has always left me with a profound sense of admiration for you. Maybe it\’s just an oldest brother\’s pride talking but still, I am amazed by all you do.

    In your family and with the Autism Society it is obvious you are doing God\’s work. What you do day to day is incredible and a testament to your dedication and values. Don\’t stop. Your life\’s work obviously supports and inspires many people.

    You have my continual admiration, love, and support.


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