August 22 is a very poignant anniversary for our family. It is the anniversary of the day my husband Vin and I first heard, “your son has autism.” At the time, I was quite certain I would never be the same. There were days where I was unrecognizable to myself and people who knew me prior to this date.

My husband struggled, too.

Our son Eli was unable to sustain a conversation, or to engage in play or to sit for school. He was unable to dress himself or understand what it meant to have a baby brother join his family (four days after his diagnosis).

My husband and I were devastated, and we wondered how we could hold it all together through the heartache. We decided that instead of wallowing in our grief that we had to fight for Eli and for us, and our marriage and our family is stronger than we could have imagined.

And I have found inner strength that I had no idea I possessed.

A few years ago, someone asked me if I could change my life by taking autism away. “Yes” I answered without hesitation. But now I believe that autism has played an integral role in my personal growth. I would not take it away as it could alter the sweet, loving son I have, he is quite simply perfection. I see that so clearly now.

I learned that my son has so many gifts, and that autism does not define him any more than having hazel eyes does. It is just a part of what makes him who he is. My son has taught me not to judge others or myself. He has taught me to have fun every day. That sweating the stupid stuff is truly sweating the stupid stuff.

I now consider myself a true, full-fledged adult. I have no tolerance for people who are prejudiced toward those who are different, be it a disability, a sexual preference or a religion.

Today, Eli is thriving in a mainstreamed public school. He is an amazingly loving son, brother and friend. When asked on the first day of school what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, “I want to be a Daddy.” He loves his little brother more than any Mom could hope.

So August 22, the anniversary of Eli’s diagnosis, is a happy day. It reminds us of how far he has come, and how far we have come as a family.

I am so proud to be your Mommy, Eli. Thank you for pushing me to be a better Mom, and person every day.

Shari Bauman Grande, LCSW, is a Clinical Therapist in private practice and a Parent Coach who assists parents of children with special needs and learning differences by providing collaborative direction. Additionally, Shari works as an Autism Advocate with organizations specializing in making a difference in the lives of those living with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ms. Grande lives in Sunnyvale, CA with her husband, Vincent and their two sons.

She can be reached at

**This article was originally published in during Autism Awareness month, 4-1-11.  Link to SF Gate: