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

A New Attitude

One day, after Nicole hung up the phone with a desperate mother who was searching for information about autism, Ryan ran over to give his mom a hug — and a feeling of gratitude about her life rushed over her. Holding her son tightly, she broke down in tears. "I had always imagined the perfect family as the commercial version — the one with the white picket fence," says Nicole. "So when Ryan was diagnosed, I was not only hurting for my son, but it also felt like my own dreams were shattered. I wondered, How could I ever have joy and a 'normal' family life with autism? It's something that I wrestled with inside."

But in that moment, Nicole felt incredibly happy. She was thankful for her loving husband, her two beautiful girls, and an adorable son who has made unbelievable progress in a relatively short period of time. And she was thrilled to have found herself in helping other families facing autism. "I never would have believed that the worst thing to happen to me could actually bring me to my purpose," she says.

As Nicole finally begins to embrace her complex and demanding new life, she is also learning to rely on help from others to keep that life running as smoothly as possible. Ryan undergoes intensive Lovaas Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which involves tutors who work with him at home for about 40 hours a week on various developmental skills — and Nicole puts that time to very good use. "While Ryan is getting the attention he needs, I can take care of chores, occasionally have lunch with a friend in another room, or spend time focusing on my girls, whom I've really missed during all this," says Nicole. She has even started a sweet ritual with her daughters to reconnect with them: Every day, she writes a little loving note in each girl's journal. Her daughters write sweet notes back to their mother and rush to place their journals on her pillow.

While autism tears some families apart, the Kalkowskis have become even closer, cherishing their time together. They all go together to the girls' soccer games on Saturdays (Ryan claps and cheers for his sisters), and after church services on Sunday, the family looks forward to their hikes in nearby Red Rock Canyon. "Autism has definitely forced us to adjust our lives," says Nicole, "but now I know that I can find happiness in it all."

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