Aiming for the Sky

Swings at the FairWhen my daughter Katie was four and using two-word phrases, someone asked how I handled the shame. I stared at her, confused. I’ve never felt shame over Katie’s autism. Sorrow of course, but never shame. My mother says I’d feel different if I’d given birth rather than adopt, but I don’t think so. Most times I forget I’ve never been pregnant. I asked Mom if she felt shame that I couldn’t have children. “No,” she said. “That’s just fate.”

“It’s the same with Katie,” I said. “This is the hand she was dealt, and we need to help her make the best of it.”

Mom shook her head. “Don’t you ever get angry?”

Of course. Everyone does, including those of us with autistic children. But unlike my mother or some of my friends, I don’t direct my anger over Katie’s diagnosis at the birthmother or my ex-husband or anyone in particular. I’m not angry so much as frustrated. I wish I could shelter my daughter from a world that mistakes silence for stupidity. I wish I could make her comfortable in her own skin. I wish I could make it easier for her to learn, to fit in, to make friends. But to do so would make Katie someone other than Katie, the child I wouldn’t change for all the certainty in the world.

So I accept my daughter exactly the way she is. I’ve learned a lot about acceptance over the past five years.


I’m a forty-something single mom of a special needs child. It doesn’t bother me to say it anymore. My ex-husband opted not to adopt Katie, and while his decision made me question everything I thought I knew, I’ve accepted it, maybe even come to see the wisdom of his choice. (Not just for him, but for all three of us, impossible as that may sound.) My family hasn’t always dealt well with Katie’s diagnosis, but I’ve more or less accepted that too. I have friends who have stepped in to pick up the slack.

Perpetually short of money and time, I’m frustrated that I can’t do more in a day, can’t solve Katie’s challenges. Often I find the person I most need to forgive is me.

I suspect many find my life chaotic or even frightening, but I’m rather fond of my current state. It’s not the life I planned or expected, but I enjoy my adopted, autistic child, my rowdy dog and even rowdier cat, my strange extended family, and my reconfigured career. The new life may be messy, but it fits better than the old life ever did.


Katie learned to swing last year. One afternoon at the park I asked if she wanted a push, and she said an emphatic no. I wasn’t sure what made her prouder: answering the question or mastering the movement. We both laughed as she swung higher and higher, aiming for the sky. Her caramel curls bounced against an arc of blue and I realized I no longer dreamed of saving the world for humankind. My job was to save it for one little girl.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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2 Responses to Aiming for the Sky

  1. j says:

    I love everything about this post. But that last line struck me. I wonder if we would all do more – befriend, recycle, advocate, protest, vote, love – if we thought we were saving the world for the people we love.

    • cjpatton says:

      Probably, Judy. I think all of us would do more if we truly believed that our individual actions would make a difference. I’m fortunate in that my environmental background taught me that it only takes a handful of people to create change. So I believe in the power of one. Most people, sadly, do not. But if we framed it in terms of how their actions might benefit their loved ones … then it might be an easier concept to grasp.

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