A letter to my son

On reveling in the present moment as you grow into all that you are: autistic, loving, joyful, and free

My precious one,

I love your smile. I’ve never seen such twinkling eyes, such pure sweetness. I thank God for each smile, each laugh, remembering when they were much harder to come by not so long ago.

I love your energy — how you sprint across the room out of pure excitement, over and over again, squealing with glee and clapping along to Cocomelon. The pitter-patter of your feet is unmistakable from every corner of the house.

I love your determination — the force with which you grab my hand and lead me to wherever I’m needed. The way you sneak away to find the iPad hiding in my bedroom, or stealthily grab a treat from the dining room table the moment I step away.

I love your love — the way you lay your head on daddy’s shoulder so gently as you dance to “No Letting Go” before bed. The way you climb onto my legs as we play and slip your arms around my neck into the tightest hug.

How can I express my gratitude for the peace your presence brings? Your glow, warm and pure, chases away every anxious question in my mind. When I’m tempted to dwell on the burdens of our therapy schedule or wonder about milestones and timelines, your joy keeps me rooted. Present. Mindful.

There is so much ahead of us, but right now there is a beauty in our simplest moments together that I want to savor. I know that as we emerge from this pandemic and venture out into the world, as you begin to brave playgrounds and preschool, there will be attempts to weigh you down with expectations and labels that were never yours to bear. I want to revel in this time, before the world accosts us with its boxes. It’s just you and me and Daddy and Sister, learning each other and growing together one day at a time.

But even as I soak in these moments, I also remember: just as we learn and grow, so does the world.

You are growing up in a world where new generations are carving out how freedom will be defined. Right now, as we celebrate Black History Month, activists are not only honoring the past but envisioning #BlackFutures. They are centering the fight for liberation around Black joy and the celebration of every unique, intersecting facet of Black identity. They are writing their own history, not defined by pain but by the inherent dignity of Black life.

They fight, that one day you would step out into the world and be truly free. And they are not the only ones fighting for you; you are part of another fiercely loving community. Autistic adults* who have walked in your shoes are raising their voices with passion and care for your well-being. I know I’m not immune to the assumptions and biases of the world, so I am learning all I can from them. Like those marching for Black lives, these advocates are working to craft a future where you can not only survive, but thrive — where your uniqueness will be seen, valued, and celebrated. You are their motivation, the reason why they fight, and I am listening closely as they speak to learn how to love and honor you for all that God has created you to be.

I love you, sweet angel. You bring so much joy to my journey. Forgive me for the moments when I yearn so deeply to hear you say “mama,” that I miss the chance to embrace you for exactly who you are today. Keep wrapping those soft little arms around my neck and keep me right here in the present. There is absolutely no place in the world I’d rather be.



*a note: at this moment, I am choosing to use identity-first language (“autistic adults”) instead of person-first language (“adults with autism”). If you’re curious, here’s a great post about this debate. (Bonus: it’s by a fellow Georgetown alum!)

I would like to sincerely thank the following Instagram creators for their invaluable insights in this very early stage of my journey parenting an autistic child: @fidgets.and.fries @the.autisticats @notanautismmom

Published by Ellie Hunja

Ellie is a mother of two (ages 7 & 3) who's on a journey to cultivate a life of purpose, authenticity, and joy. She writes about parenting, autism awareness, mental health, faith, racial justice, and more. She believes that empathy and vulnerability can change the world, and that there is ALWAYS room for dessert.

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