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I used to be extremely shy. I’d run away from conflict. Confrontations scared me, and I was good at avoiding them. Most social situations left me tongue-tied and nervously sick to my stomach.

Having children changed me. Let’s face it, the whole pregnancy and childbirth process does much to erase shyness and embarrassment. You get over yourself fast. Having two little boys who had “issues” also made a big difference. ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, Executive Dysfunction, Celiac disease and Type 1 Diabetes (not once but twice). Having to deal with this boatload of issues at times seemed unfair and absolutely insurmountable.

But I learned, and I became an advocate. The most important thing I heard one of the Doctors (or was it a teacher?) say in the early days was that I had to advocate for my sons because they couldn’t do it for themselves. I had to be their voice. I took that advice to heart. So I listened, I researched, I read, and I asked questions. I went on instinct on more than one occasion. I asked for help and clarification when I needed to.

There would be hundreds of meetings over the years, and I started out attending those meetings feeling scared and uncertain. While I couldn’t speak up for myself, I could do it for my sons, however. At first, I hated when it was my turn to speak. All the eyes around the table would turn to me, and I’d stumble red-faced over what I had to say. I usually got out what I wanted to convey, but it was hard. I met with Doctors, behavioral specialists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, autism specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, teachers, aides, administrators, Principals, school district representatives, and many other specialists whose titles and purpose I’ve forgotten. Most along the way were helpful, a few were awful, and a few were truly outstanding. All taught me something.

From the good experiences, I learned skills to help my sons adapt and adjust in their daily lives. From the bad experiences, I learned how to be stronger and fight even harder. Both boys made it through school, and I proudly watched them both graduate. Seeing them both wear their caps and gowns and walk across the stage with their classmates to receive their diplomas made me cry both times.

According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is one who pleads the case of another, and a mother is a female parent who cares for and protects her children. Having two handsome and wonderful young men to parent and advocate for has made me a better and stronger person in the long run. I am still shy and awkward in some social situations, but I stopped running away. Inside I might still be shaking like a leaf, but I learned how to hide that. As I gained experience and grew older, I got more comfortable in my own skin. Forced to be outgoing and proactive instead of reactive, I grew to do things I never thought I’d do.

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