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Touched by Autism

Touched by Autism

My name is Shelley Hotchkiss, and I am a District Director of Operations in St Louis, Missouri. I’ve just celebrated my one-year anniversary with our wonderful Company in March and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share another title I’m proud to hold: “Molly’s Mom.”

Becoming a mom is hands-down the greatest thing I’ve ever done. My daughter, Molly, is the center of everything I do. She is my “Why.” 

Molly was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when she was nine-years-old. Autism is rarely a single diagnosis; Molly also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Anxiety and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), specifically auditory and tactile. 

That’s a whole bunch of words and phrases just to say my girl processes information differently. Which is how I’ve learned to describe Autism to others – it’s functioning on a different processing system. Different, not less.

Each person’s experience with Autism is different. Molly has always been socially and emotionally delayed while intellectually and academically advanced. Her reading comprehension has been post-college level since she was 11-years-old, but also, at that physical age, she was still interested in play and activities for a typical six-year-old.  

I mention her at 11-years-old because middle school was the worst and hardest time since our journey began. That’s really when she started to understand she was being bullied and excluded for being different. It was a scary and heartbreaking time, and I don’t know what we would have done without our support system of family, friends, teachers, doctors, and therapists.  

Molly struggles to make or hold eye contact; she is extremely sensitive to noise and frequency, and she doesn’t understand personal space, body language, or social cues. She takes things extremely literal; she doesn’t understand sarcasm or jokes but will mimic anything that she perceives made someone laugh. She needs structure and routine, and resists change.

Molly is also kind, loving, funny, smart, and strong. She is the bravest person I know. We discovered the magic of sound cancelling headphones, which she now wears just about everywhere. She is a brilliant artist and I have her drawings framed on our walls at home. Molly will soon be 17-years-old and is about to enter her Senior year of high school. In high school, she has excelled in the Drama Club and Gamers Club and has maintained honor roll. She has come so far since those dark days of middle school and has truly thrived over the past few years.

I mentioned a different processing system earlier. Here’s a good way to look at: if you had two different gaming consoles and tried to use a PlayStation cartridge in an Xbox system, it wouldn’t work – not because it was broken, but because it was different. Coming to that realization has helped me to better understand Molly and to provide her the care and support she needs.

To any other caregivers out there who are at the start of your journey, please know that you are not alone. There are so many resources and support through national, state, and local groups. 

Removing the stigma around autism and mental health in general is critical, in my opinion. Just be kind as you never know what someone else is going through, and it’s much easier than you think to be a difference maker. 

April is Autism Acceptance Month and, according to the linked article (with lots of other resources!), “… aims to celebrate and promote acceptance for the condition that occurs in one in every 54 children as of 2020 in the United States. Autism, a complex developmental condition affecting the patient’s ability to interact, communicate, and progress, has not one but many subtypes. First held in the year 1972 by the Autism Society, Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month emphasizes the need for public awareness to promote acceptance, celebrate the differences, and be more inclusive towards autistic individuals around us.”
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