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    What Autism Does to a Mother

    continued...

    While a few friends hung in there, the phone calls from others faded. "Life went on for them," says Nicole. "But without the phone ringing, and without being able to run errands because of Ryan's behavior, my days were filled with silence." Nicole often cried to her husband, Tim, about the loneliness. Tim, 38, who owns a contracting business, realized how suffocating the situation was for his wife. "I had work as an escape," he says. "But autism was every minute of Nicole's day."

    A part of Nicole simply shut down. "I did put up a wall," she says. "When someone reached out, I didn't jump. I just felt like, 'There's nothing anyone can do to fix this.'"

    "I kept turning down help"

    After the prayer vigil, Nicole's "wall" began to crack. "I felt so cared for during the vigil, which was very healing," she says. But it was a new friend, Sue Stigler, who finally convinced Nicole to truly drop her defenses.

    Sue and Nicole were in the same social circle at church, but they weren't close. So it surprised Nicole when the 41-year-old mom, who has a son Ryan's age, took on the role of best friend. Sue began showing up at her door throughout the summer wanting to help — she stopped by with uplifting greeting cards, cookies, chocolate, and offers to shop for groceries and even to clean Nicole's house. "I kept turning her down," says Nicole. "I wanted help, but I felt like I was drowning in everything I needed."

    Sue persisted, and even packed Nicole's suitcase for a family trip to Laguna Beach, CA, with Tim's friends and their families. Nicole had contemplated canceling the vacation because going away with Ryan seemed too hard. But Sue convinced her that it would be a good chance for the family to have some fun. "I'm so glad Sue pushed us to go," says Nicole. "I bonded with the wives of Tim's friends, who were very understanding on the trip — probably because they got a chance to see all my day-to-day challenges firsthand."

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