Autism Acceptance Month with Daily_Dig
April 24, 2023
Every April is Autism Acceptance Month, a time to uplift autistic voices and celebrate neurodiversity. Autism is a spectrum disorder that refers to a broad range of conditions and affects 1 in 36 children in the United States. Although nearly 3% of the population is diagnosed with autism, there are many subtypes of this spectrum disorder, and every autistic individual is unique. Many people still think of autism as a disease for which a “cure” should be worked toward, but there are an increasing number of people who reject this frame of mind and see neurodiversity as a social problem. Rather than trying to “fix” people with autism, advocates of neurodiversity say that society should seek to understand, accept, and value the unique insights the autistic mind has to offer. The autism community is a diverse group of people who face a variety of challenges, possess a variety of talents, and have the same right as anyone else to be themselves. In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we spoke to Jessie, the accidental-influencer mom behind the Instagram account @daily_dig. As the mother of a child with autism, she shared her family’s story about her son’s ASD diagnosis and all the ways that neurodiversity has opened up their world.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
DD: I’m Jessie! I live in the Midwest with my husband and 4-year-old son, John. We’re a laid back family and love to have fun, eat good food, and spend time with family and friends.
Q: How old was John when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? What went through your head when you received his diagnosis?
DD: John was 2. He was in an early intervention program that worked closely with an autism clinic where we lived at the time, and I feel really grateful for that because I know waitlists can be SO long. He was young when he got the diagnosis, but it opened up the door to so much support and understanding.
When he first got diagnosed I was really overwhelmed. You’re given SO much information at once and it’s hard to know where to start. I remember feeling all the feels, but also relief. Relief that I was going to find support and be able to help my child thrive and learn about the really awesome way his brain works.
Q: What were the things you noticed in John that prompted you to get him screened?
DD: A speech regression was the first sign. Some of John’s first words slowly started to disappear, and skills he once mastered (pointing, waving, etc.) regressed and he was no longer doing those things.
Q: Did you have a support system while you were navigating your son’s diagnosis? What were some of the resources that you found most valuable?
DD: My family and friends have always been extremely supportive and I'm so grateful for that. John has been in therapy since he was an infant due to feeding difficulties and surgeries, and his therapists have always been an incredible support system, too.
The most valuable resources I've found would be the community and those that support you and understand. I’ve met so many amazing autistic adults and children, and learning from them has been the most valuable.
Q: What would you say have been the biggest challenges so far in John’s life?
DD: J has had a few medical challenges that were really hard. He had surgery for Pyloric Stenosis at 5 weeks old and was diagnosed with FPIES (food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome) at 9 months old. Those times were full of a lot of anxiety and just wanting my baby to feel better.
Q: What are the ways that your son inspires you?
DD: He is pure joy. Within minutes of meeting John, you can just tell he’s a sweet soul. The little things in life make him so happy and his enthusiasm for life is inspiring.
Q: What are John’s biggest interests right now?
DD: John LOVES construction vehicles & LEGO.
Q: If you could describe your son in three words, what would they be and why?
DD: Joy, loving, resilient. He is such a happy kid full of so much joy, and when he loves, he loves hard. He takes a little while to warm up to people but when he trusts you, he’ll love you. He’s been through a lot and never gives up.
Q: Has having a child with ASD changed the way you see other neurodivergent people?
DD: Absolutely. It has helped me see the world from a different perspective and understand accommodations some people may need. It also helped me better understand myself. I received an ADHD diagnosis last year. I saw so many traits in John that I struggled with as a child but I never had the support or accommodations in place when I was little.
Q: What led you to start @daily_dig?
DD: During the height of the pandemic, I was a stay-at-home mom and decided to start an Instagram account to document my days with John (all of which included a day full of digging because he loves construction vehicles). I started sharing the activities I was doing with him and sharing about our journey with autism, and have met so many amazing people and built an incredible community.
Q: What do you hope that people will take away from your Instagram account?
DD: I hope they see the joy of parenting a neurodivergent child. An autism diagnosis is life changing, but it’s not life defining and I hope that shows in what I share with the world.
Q: What are some things you wish people understood about John?
DD: I wish some people understood that behavior IS communication. What may look like a tantrum to someone can actually be a sensory overload meltdown. At the store, there are lots of people, lights, smells, sounds...these can all be overwhelming and a lot to process, and when this happens, sometimes a meltdown can occur.
Q: Regardless of his diagnosis, your son has always been the same John that you’ve known and loved his entire life. Has receiving the diagnosis made it easier to understand him and parent him more effectively?
DD: 100% yes! Having a diagnosis has opened a door to incredible support and understanding. I’ve learned the tools and strategies to support him best.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about autism? In what ways can people who aren’t familiar with ASD be more supportive towards those on the spectrum?
DD: I think the biggest misconception would be that people think of it as a burden or inconvenience. Sure, some things are more difficult and it may take more prep to do certain things, but it has also taught me to have a lot of empathy and understanding.
I think people who aren’t familiar with ASD could be more supportive by asking questions, listening, and including. You don’t have to be familiar with autism in order to include someone. Everyone wants to feel included and accepted no matter their neurotype.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you can give to another parent who is newly navigating their child’s ASD diagnosis?
DD: You’ve got this! There will be hard days, and there will be easy days...but above all, there is no better parent for your child than you!
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About the Author: Alice
Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.