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My Social Life as an Autism Mom

Photograph by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez

I don't ever remember my mother taking much time out for herself while I was growing up. She had one best friend, and their time together revolved around uniting our families. When I became a mom, I told myself I would still make time for my friends without the kids. And for a while, I did.

Then my son, Norrin, was diagnosed with autism in 2008, and time with my amigas took a backseat to everything else. There was therapy, doctor appointments and never-ending paperwork. Those first few years after Norrin's autism diagnosis, isolation came easily. Without realizing it, I created a barrier that was almost impossible to penetrate. My circle of friends shrunk, and my nights out with girlfriends were non-existent.

Norrin recently turned 9, and we've found our groove as a family. Yet my social life (outside of my work day) almost always revolves around my family. I'm not complaining, but there are moments when I miss my life before motherhood. I miss hanging out with friends and talking about books, movies or makeup. Just because I'm a mom, doesn't mean I want to spend every single moment of my day talking about my kid. Sometimes this mami needs a break.

Most Saturday nights I'm home, content to watch a movie with my family. But I spent my first Saturday evening of the New Year with girlfriends — fellow autism moms — and I had a blast!

I didn't get any more dressed up than I would have if I had gone out with my family. But I liked the ritual of getting ready on a Saturday night. I met my friends at a local restaurant — a place too loud for my kid. We drank, ate and sang karaoke. (At one point, all nine of us were singing the same song!) We laughed like we had known each other all of our lives even though we hadn't. Some of us met for the very first time after communicating via Facebook for months. But as autism moms, we had formed a bond. We understood each other. And we were at ease.

Raising a child with autism, life can be lonely. Our kids don't typically get invited to birthday parties or play dates. We avoid places that can be overwhelming and crowded. And it can be hard to connect with other moms who don't know the ups and downs of raising a child with special needs. When my son was first diagnosed, I didn't know a single mom raising a child with autism. And through social media, I was able to find them. In our little social media circle, we found camaraderie and comfort.

A Saturday night out is rare for me; it was the same story for most of the moms I was with that night. But by the end of the evening, we promised to make more time for each other. Because our lives can't revolve around the needs of our children. It's OK for us to be a little selfish and take time for ourselves to just be the women we were before we became moms.

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