The first time she met a mom with a child with autism, Susan O’Shaughnessy remembers thinking how lucky it was that she wasn’t that mom.
Little did she know autism would soon occupy her every thought. One month after a niece was diagnosed with autism, doctors diagnosed her then 2-year-old son, James.
Though she knew James had developmental delays because of years she spent around other people’s kids, everyone told her not to worry because he was a preemie. "I thought I had the best baby in the world. He would entertain himself for hours."
After the diagnosis, though, she says people were quick to blame her and her husband, from allowing vaccinations to eating the wrong foods while she was pregnant or the stress of her mother’s death before his birth to watching TV. "You name it, I hear it."
The Lemont mom has her hands full these days, essentially running after triplets, 3-year-old James, who functions on a 20-month-old’s level and still doesn’t speak, and twins, David and Katie, who has Down Syndrome.
Sometimes, she admits, it’s easier out in public with Katie because people can see she has special needs. But with James, people don’t see autism and either think she’s a bad mom or worse, she says, that he is a spoiled brat. "I never know how to tell people or to explain it to them," she says.
She thrills at the little things in life—James eating chicken for the first time recently and walking down the stairs by himself. And yes, there are still times she gets depressed about the diagnosis, worrying about how to pay for therapy and thinking about the future.
"Then I take a step back and look at where we’ve been and where we are."