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The Gift

The following article is submitted by Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocate Tali Denton. 

As parents of kids with autism, we can get worn down not only from the physical demands of parenting a child on the spectrum but by the emotional demands as well. It seems that our teen son needs and has always required reassurance. My husband and I often serve as his cheerleaders, providing kudos and feel-good words to foster the self-esteem of our special needs child. As much as we adore our kids, this can grow tiresome. What if there was something else, something they could turn to when we weren’t around or when they were feeling blue and needed a boost?

My husband and I had the idea to make a book of memories for our son as a surprise high school graduation gift this past June. We made a long list of loving teachers, professionals, family members, and friends who had touched our son’s life, beginning in first grade. We contacted them all and requested letters, pictures, cards, or any special memories they had of our son.

We were amazed at the outpouring of interest and the written treasures that were sent back to us by email and snail mail. One special ed teacher from elementary school had even saved classroom publications that included blurbs about her students and pictures our son had drawn 11 years ago!

The look on our child’s face when he received this surprise gift was better than all of the words of thanks that we got from him. It was so fulfilling to see him flipping through the pages and smiling at the names he saw at the bottom of each personal note.

As our son prepares for college in the fall, he often comments about the book and what it means to him. It seems that he needs us less as cheerleaders now that he has this to read whenever he feels he needs a pick-me-up.

We are immensely grateful to everyone who took the time to share their connection to our son. If your child is young, you may want to start a master list of teachers and other contacts, because one day you might find yourself calling on them to share their memories of your child. It really is a gift that lasts a lifetime!

For more parenting tips, contact the Parent Advocate in your area today. (link to map)

Tali Denton can be reached via email at

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  1. Diane Marr says:

    Beautiful article. It would be great to see more of the same with regard to high school ASD students and college students on the spectrum. I know the author knows that it isn\’t over, she and her husband will still continue to advocate and work their way into the college system on behalf of their son for however long it takes to get him through. College is a bit rougher. My advice to make friends with your son\’s campus advisor and the coordinator for students with disabilities. Remember there are no IEP\’s and the teachers and professors at this stage have 100 per class and your child is just one fish in the pond. I wouldn\’t recommend dorm living as it can get pretty loud and wild. My son stayed in a student apartment off campus. He brought his car, but ECU provides pick up at all the student apts and drop off. He only used his car for the occasional movie or shopping. He came home on every 3 day weekend and my husband I visited once a month. I wish you nothing but success for your son. My son has 2 degrees & is working with our local VocRehab to find him a job. Yes, it\’s just another hoop you will eventually have to jump through. He is not and has never been on SSI. It took him 9 yrs to get 2 degrees. He left the community college with no debt because he worked part time and paid his way through.

  2. ASD Mom says:

    I have always saved special papers or tests that my son had completed the previous school year to bring out to show him how much progress he had made (however slight it may have been, it was still progress). This was especially important when he was frustrated and struggling with a new skill during the new school year. It was also a good reminder for me to keep moving forward, especially on challenging days and nights. I love the idea of keeping all of the accomplishments (which may not mean very much to a family not living with autism) and memories in one place and giving them to my son as a gift. For him to reallize how far he has come is a priceless gift !

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