If you’re feeling mixed emotions heading into the holidays – you’re not alone.

This year has brought a lot of challenges, disruption, and even fear of what the future may hold. It’s hard!

I know this… you can make the holidays special no matter what by doing one very important thing.

Having been a bit of a rebel and a disrupter all my life, I know what it’s like to not have much of anything that you could call typical or normal. I got married at 19 to get out of the house and had my first daughter when I was barely 21. Then, I waited until I was in my late 30s to have my next 3 kids, my last being my long-awaited son when I was almost 40.

Chanel was my second daughter, diagnosed with autism and a life-threatening seizure disorder when she was 3 years old. The doctors and educators told me she would never read, never write, never talk, and never be successful in school. So, what do you think I did? I defied everything I was told by the experts and proved them all wrong!

Life as a mother of a special needs child is never “normal”.

And guess what?

I LOVE IT THAT WAY.

Sure – I have dreamed about what it might have been like to have seen what Chanel would have done with her life had she not had autism. It would really be great to not have to answer Chanel’s heartbreaking questions about why people discriminate against her or treat her differently. But that just isn’t possible.

I’d love to have been able to see Chanel have a childhood of playdates and birthday parties. I could have lived without having to watch kids and their parents whisper to each other and feel sorry for me because Chanel had autism and couldn’t talk. But that just wasn’t possible.

Parties, college, travel, going to the car dealer to purchase her first car; these things are all part of a mother’s joy after a child graduates high school. But that just wasn’t possible.

Why is my different version of doing life good with me?

Because of a vow I made to myself and to God a very long time ago…

To LOVE what I have.

As a parent of a wonderful neurodiverse adult child, I swear this one decision might be the one you’ll thank yourself the most for making.

To list a few things that Chanel has given me (all of which evoke a tsunami of appreciation within me) are:

  • Chanel’s hysterical sense of humor.
  • How she can bring me back into my heart by pointing out the full moon, a beautiful flower, a video of animals she found on the internet, or calling my attention to watch her cat “Tiger” do something heartwarming.
  • Her transparent and sometimes brutal honesty.
  • Her amazing memory ability to site the birthday and the children’s and pet’s names of every relative and friend.
  • How she can remember things in detail about events that happened when she was 4 years old (and she was non-verbal until she was 8 years old!)
  • How she gave her younger brother and sister the amazing gift of compassion and a fierce ability to defend all neurodiverse individuals.
  • My advocacy career that has opened doors that would have remained shut for scores of amazing kids in special education.
  • The wonder I feel when I think of how Chanel defied the bleak predictions of the doctors and educators because she worked tirelessly to graduate high school with a diploma with honors.
  • Her art creations.
  • Her high vibrational frequency of love, equality, and peace.
  • And most importantly… the reminder that I have the power to choose to hold a perspective of seeing the blessings in my life instead of believing it’s just “what is” and I have to accept it.

And that last one? You have that same power too.

So, what do you have?

It’s probably a lot more than you think.

I LOVE WHAT I HAVE.

I am more than thankful. It’s not just “what is” so I have to accept it.

Our kids bring us so much more BEYOND “what is”.

Let’s take some time this holiday season to remember how our beautiful angels have blessed our lives and changed our world.

I’m thankful to have you as part of my world! May you have a warm, calm, and joyous holiday season of appreciation – whatever that looks like to you.

Even though we are experiencing a national pandemic, there is no “normal”. There’s our ability to choose how to view our lives, and love and appreciate our blessings.

Valerie Aprahamian

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