We will soon be stepping into a new life journey with Eli as he will be graduating from Atlee High School (AHS) in June. How did we get here so quickly? I wish time would slow down. When Eli was first diagnosed at 3 years old Nathan, and I were faced with all the things he would most likely never do. They were big milestones that most parents take for granted- drive a car, go to college and get married. It took the breath out of me. I grieved these things hard. I felt that each of them was a loss of a big experience and a rite of passage for Eli AND for me too.
But as time has gone on and we have settled into the autism life, these big things hit less hard. Their importance is not quite as significant as they once were. AHS has fully embraced Eli for the past 4 years in ways I could never have imagined. His senior year has been his “best year ever” (as Eli likes to proclaim). For example, he has had the opportunity to be the football and girls' basketball team manager (aka “hype man”). He is a member of SODA (Student Organization for Developing Attitudes) and TILT (Teens Interacting and Learning Together). He has made lasting friendships, and many have cheered and supported him in the Homecoming Court and Mr. AHS. Most of the students know him as the kid who is ALWAYS smiling, giving hand hearts or doing a crazy dab. While in high school, Eli has had several amazing internship opportunities. You might think folding towels at a hotel, serving coffee or selling cookies is no Harvard but it is everything to the three of us. I have learned that staying in the moment and celebrating the little things is what matters most. As his mom, I get the gift of seeing each little thing. It slows me down. It humbles me. It reminds me what really matters in life. Ironic how perspective changes you. Autism has changed me. Belonging to someone who is different changed us and I wouldn’t change anything about that.
As I mentioned, Eli will be graduating with his friends in June and has applied for a year-long work skills program through VCU and Hanover County. We find out if he gets accepted into the program at the end of March. If not accepted, we will be looking for employment opportunities for him. Life with autism can be challenging and isolating some days because our path looks different. And then on some days it is also the biggest gift. And I think that sums up Eli perfectly. He is our biggest gift. And if you are lucky to know him, he is a gift to you too.
Please join us in donating and/or participating in the Autism Society Central VA 5K and Family Fun Day. All funds raised provide much needed support to families and individuals like Eli living with autism, and all the money stays in the greater Richmond area. I hope you will consider supporting Team bELIeve in one of the following ways:
Make an online donation to the ASCV (Jennifer Barnum- Team bELIeve) and/or join Team bELIeve on Saturday, May 18 at Crump Park: https://runsignup.com/Race/68858/Donate/3zpKrhRodynP2fwj
Jennifer & Nathan (Eli’s #1 bELIevers)