When my eldest daughter Marina was two, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is a neurological difference that many children and adults live with globally. It is not a death sentence.
A Special Story by Bianca Rose Castillo-Neill
I know this now, but back then I had never heard of ASD, and was hopelessly misinformed. I did not receive hope and encouragement from anyone I spoke to, professionally or personally. It was a moment of pure doom for a young mother. I felt myself immediately scrambling; grasping at breath like I was drowning with a lead weight on my ankles, and desperately seeking to do anything to keep my daughter afloat. Anything to keep her from the dread that seemed to be this thing called Autism.
I won’t spend a lot of time explaining ASD or arguing its various nuances or opinions within the community – there are many. I will cut straight to my story as a mother of two brilliant daughters who happen to exist on the same spectrum. It didn’t take long to realize our road would be a sometimes lonely, but lovely one. It wouldn’t be easy, but we could be happy, just a different kind of happy. One thing was for sure, we would all need ways to cope as a family, individually, and collectively. For myself that outlet became yoga.
I was introduced to Hatha by one of my daughter’s occupational therapists. She must have noted my obviously over-taxed brain, body, and large black circles under my eyes. I didn’t know what yoga really was, I had done martial arts, and we had used some yoga poses as warm ups, that was the extent of my understanding. Then I discovered her, in my opinion, an earth angel – the yogi, Elena Brower.
I found one of her Wanderlust Speakeasy’s on YouTube while doing research in a midnight attempt to understand why I needed yoga. Was this the latest greatest autism therapy trend?
I sat at my laptop in the quiet of the night and cried my eyes out while I listened. My god, she spoke my language. She understood the heartache and the passion and the beauty in being an imperfect mother who just wants to get it right for her kid. Then I realized I was looking at this all the wrong way. It was not at all productive to view my girls as needing changing, needing repairing, or needing shielding from the world. It was myself that needed to be shaken awake. It was I that needed to see things from a new perspective, to view our lives not as a trial, but as an opportunity. I needed to see our lives not as sadness and doom, but as a hope for transcendence and growth. We would never be stereotypical, true. What an opportunity to shine!
Gradually the arms of yoga and seated meditation would daily envelope me like an embrace from a much needed friend. It was so much more than a workout or a stress reliever. It was a portion of my day where my body became aware of the spirit inside, and then melted warmly in a fusion that became a tonic for all I couldn’t let go of. I could open up and reach out of the scales of stress and find my softer skin beneath.
I will say most emphatically, caretakers MUST have an organized self-care routine. If you care for a special needs child or an aging parent, or a spouse with an illness, you must refuel. Yoga works for me, but if it’s not yoga, that’s fine! It can be long baths and walks in the park. It can be riding your bike, or going for hikes. What’s important is to be alone and get quiet enough to build strength for all the efforts you put forth, for the people you love and nurture. Remember, you give the quality and consistency of love and care you receive, so really caring for yourself is a service to those you love, as much as it is a gift to yourself.
If you are a mama caring for a special needs child or any child, I have these words for you. You are not alone. Your child is not alone. You are strong, and you are a good mama. You have all the resources and faculties you need to love and care for your child within you. Don’t ever question your intuition. You have a divine connection to your child’s life, trust that instinctive bond. Take care of yourself. Please make the time. Ask for help. Love yourself and you can more effectively give of yourself, your care, and all your love!
About the Author:
Bianca Rose Castillo-Neill is a mother of two daughters on the Autism spectrum. She is an advocate for girls and women on and off the ASD spectrum. An avid yogini, artist, herbalist, and wild crafter, she believes nothing is impossible with the grace of a positive life. You can connect with Bianca via her Instagram @Bianca.Rose.Neill
Boy Behind the Puzzle of Autism: Photographer HepIngton
All other images courtesy of Bianca Rose Castillo-Neill