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What autism does to a mother

Learning to cope

Nicole Kalkowski knows that beyond the stress, fear, and family turmoil that come with learning that your child has this devastating disorder, there is also a devastating aloneness. In our second installment of Living With Autism, we follow this mother of three as she struggles to save her son and finds help - for her children and for herself - in unexpected places.

"I am determined to save my little boy"

Ryan's accomplishments made Nicole eager to meet other mothers to compare notes about treatments. "Once your child shows one sign of hope, you're hooked and you get even more committed," Nicole explains. She got in touch with Families for Early Autism Treatment, and in early November, she, Tim, and their kids attended a picnic that was hosted by the organization. While Nicole appreciated talking to other moms about which treatments worked for them, she felt that it was her daughters, Ciera and Ella, who probably benefited the most from the event. "It was good for them to see that they aren't the only siblings in the world who deal with autism," says Nicole.

A month later, Nicole saw information about a Walk Now for Autism event and jumped at the chance to form her own team. In less than a week, she recruited 30 friends and family members, who raised more than $2,000 for autism. At the walk, Nicole received new information about local treatment providers — plus, a discussion with one of the walk's organizers about the therapies Ryan was getting prompted Nicole to repeat her requests for more hours from NEIS. That request was granted, and as a result, Ryan also joined a weekly NEIS playgroup where he can interact with typical kids.
The highlights of the day didn't end there. Nicole and her family met two celebrity moms who each have a child with autism: Jenny McCarthy and singer Toni Braxton. "It was a surreal moment for me," says Nicole. "I had the chance to tell Jenny how much she touched my heart when I needed hope so desperately. I told her that her book helped save my son, and that it started a fire in me to fight for him. Jenny actually choked up while she was listening to me. It wasn't about meeting a celebrity for me; it was bigger than that. The whole walk filled me with such positive feelings. Looking around at all the people who turned out on a cold, windy day to fight autism was so hopeful and uplifting for me. I realized that sitting at home being depressed was useless; the walk brought me to a new place, and it reinforced my determination to save my little boy."

More about autism

Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: What Autism Does to a Mother

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