Autism Moms Interview #1 Karen Jackson

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On the Eve of World Autism Day and the start of April, Autism Awareness Month, I hope this is the beginning of a meaningful series of interviews with autism moms. So many woman are doing wonderful, courageous and creative things and I hope to highlight some of that this month through our FIN Blog.
To start the ball rolling, so to speak, I begin by interviewing myself. A bit unorthodox, yes, but it was a very interesting exercise and I am always glad to share about what it is like to be an autism mom.
If you have not been contacted yet and would like to contribute, please email Karen at http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com

Interview: Karen F. Jackson
Position/Title: Executive Director of Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads and Author of Loving Samantha

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?
Karen: Samantha was first diagnosed with a “communication disorder” between two and three years old. What I learned later was that autism is a communication disorder-our doctor was just very conservative in making the autism diagnosis in early years.
As it became more and more obvious Samantha was different than other children (no talking, unusual sensory behaviors), I was extremely anxious and stressed most of the time. I worked hard to learn everything I could about autism, cried a lot and spent most of my waking hours chasing after a very active child.
Question: How has living with autism affected your family?
Karen: Samantha has two brothers, an older one and a younger one. They are both incredible young men who are very protective of their sister. As siblings to Samantha, they have had to sacrifice time and attention, especially from me as their mother. They are both strong advocates not only for their sister, but for anyone who has challenges.
As far as marriage goes, I am not going to paint a perfect picture-autism, and any other severe disability can challenge even the strongest of marriages. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is committed to our relationship and to being a great father. We will no doubt continue to have our ups and downs, but we are happy overall. In fact, this August we will celebrate our 24th anniversary!

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?
Karen: At this point, I would say the biggest challenge is preparing for the transition to adulthood, particularly life after high school. The uncertainty of what Samantha will do, and will it be meaningful to her, has caused me considerable anxiety as of late. We are working as a family to figure this all out though and I am hopeful we will come through the transition with positive outcomes.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?
Karen: My greatest joy is watching the ways Samantha continues to learn and grow more independent. She surprises me with the smallest of things. Just the other day, I smiled as I watched her flip her shirt around the correct way to put on by herself. Even a year ago she could not always do this correctly. I am joyful about her progress, however big or small.

Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?
Karen: Since I went as far as writing a book about Samantha and our faith journey, I guess the answer to this question would have to be a resounding, yes! I believe that autism has had a profound effect on my faith. It has led me to depend on God to sustain me through the most difficult of parenting challenges. I am sure that living this type of parenting journey would not be possible for me without an active prayer life, support of my faith community and many friends of faith.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?
Karen: Just to let all autism moms know that they are strong and amazing. Whether they are quietly taking care of their child at home, advocates in their local community or throughout the country, moms raising children with autism are doing great things but are also in need of your love, support and understanding.
The nicest thing people can say to me is- “You are doing a good job.” I am not always doing a good job, but I am trying and it is very encouraging to hear the affirmation of that sometimes. So, if you know an autism mom, please take a moment this month to encourage her!

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