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I'm on a Mission to Get My Son Better — and Help Others

Mom Turned Advocate

Resolving to finally stop obsessing over what role she may have played in Ryan's condition, Nicole decided to direct her energy toward something far more productive: using her experience to help others who are in her situation. "At first, I just didn't want to accept autism, and I didn't have much interest in making friends with women in the [autism] community," she says. "I was strictly on a mission to get my son better. Now, I'm proud to say that I'm an active member of this community."

Nicole has joined the board of Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT); she pitches in at fund-raisers and volunteers with programs that provide emotional support to families. "To see a big group of people who care so much about fighting autism makes me feel that change will happen," says Nicole, who has gained her own incredible support group through FEAT. "Many of these women have been on the journey longer than I have, and they have taken me under their wing," she says. "These amazing, involved mothers really celebrate their children, and they continue to give me so much strength."

Her work with FEAT has given Nicole validation and hope, but her participation in another group, the education committee of the Autism Coalition of Nevada, has given her a voice. Nicole, formerly a special education teacher, is now able to put her background to work, brainstorming with prominent local politicians, medical experts, educators, and fellow parents during teleconferences about ways to improve early intervention and the educational system for those with autism in Nevada. "Instead of just screaming in my kitchen about things that are wrong with the system, I can give meaningful feedback and hopefully make it better for families," she says. "It's also a good feeling to have these important people in the state listening to what I have to say."

Less than a year after she learned that Ryan had autism, Nicole now also talks one-on-one with mothers whose kids have just been diagnosed, explaining to these women what to expect and reviewing treatment options. "Considering how depressed I was at one point about autism, I'm sometimes shocked by how encouraging and positive I am when I speak to mothers about it," says Nicole. "I feel my own spirit lift during those talks."

Tim is proud of his wife for giving so much of herself, and recently he, too, met with a dad whose two sons had been diagnosed. "When Nicole and I were feverishly looking for answers, one gentleman who had a son with autism took 45 minutes out of his busy day to talk to me about what to expect," says Tim. "He talked to me from the guy's perspective, and he didn't sugarcoat things. I remember how much that talk meant to me, and I was happy to help the next person. It's a horrible thing to admit, but before this was all happening with Ryan, I never really did anything to help people beyond my family and friends. Our experience with autism has put us in give-back mode."

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