Welcome! I'm Olympia Megrikyan...Creator of Essie's Journey: Beyond the Spectrum, wife, advocate, friend, sister, daughter, and most importantly, the mother of two beautiful girls, one of whom was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our personal journey into this world of autism began just over eight years ago with the birth of our daughter, Esther (Essie) Olivia Kazanchian.
So, what is Autism Spectrum disorder? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. Symptoms that hurt the person's ability to function properly in school, work, and other life areas. The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person. ASD is usually first diagnosed in childhood, with many of the most-obvious signs presenting around 2-3 years old. Still, some children with autism develop normally until toddlerhood, when they stop acquiring or lose previously gained skills. According to the CDC, one in 59 children is estimated to have autism. Autism is a lifelong condition.
My motivation behind Essie's Journey: Beyond the Spectrum comes with many reasons. Still, the most important one is bringing awareness in all communities (especially mine) and ensuring that everyone understands that children with Autism are unique and special. There's a saying that's often repeated because it's true: "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." That's because children (and adults) on the autism spectrum are very different from one another. There is no one correct road map to follow when raising, teaching, and loving them. So here is a little bit of advice I would like to give to parents alike:
1. Don’t worry about what other people think. - The most freeing moment of this journey for us was when we stopped worrying about public appearance. Your child needs for you to be 100 percent in tune with them and what they are experiencing, not worried about how you are perceived.
2. When it comes to autism, one size doesn’t fit all. - Just because they don’t learn how ‘typical’ children do doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. It means that we, as parents, caregivers, friends, neighbors, and teachers, need to find different ways to try and make a connection.
3. Surround yourself with people that understand you. - Having a support system that can relate is invaluable.
4. It's OK to feel down about your child's diagnosis - It's ok to feel, but remember, your child is special, and you were built for this.
5. Try not to read too much into things people say to you - You will find yourself annoyed with positive comments because they seem to minimize the magnitude of your child’s challenges. You will also be annoyed by negative comments that don’t recognize the magnitude of your child’s progress.
6. The hardest parts of autism are unseen by the outside world - When someone hasn't experienced it, they might not understand it. Judging from the outside is easy.
7. When you change your expectations, the world will grow - Some days will be hard, some days will be beautiful, and at the end of each day, when we tuck our daughter into bed, the most important thing we can do is make sure she knows she is special and that she is loved no different than her sister.
8. Your child with autism may bring out the best in your family - Essie is a big sister, and she has taught us all the importance of kindness, patience, compassion, listening, and respect. These attributes allow our family to keep a realistic perspective on what is truly important in life vs. what is worthy of our energy.
9. Having a child on the spectrum can be like a reboot to your life - It's exciting and challenging because each day holds a new adventure. Despite the challenges of having a child on the spectrum, my life is perfectly complete. My daughter challenges me to be a better parent every single day!
10. As a parent, remember to live your own life and take care of yourself.
Essie is a big sister to Katharina! She loves being around her sibling. They have an unbreakable bond as sisters that not even Essie's autism can alter. Although it hasn’t always been easy, Essie's diagnosis has ultimately brought her closer to her sister. Having an autistic sibling can be a positive experience as they can share their unique qualities and outlook on life together. It has helped Katharina become a more tolerant and accepting child. She has a lot more patience than her sister and tries to be a better sibling to her everyday. She guides her when needed and keeps her smiling. Katharina is still getting used to the whole concept of autism, for she is a child too. My husband and I make it a point to speak openly to her about Essie's challenges. We thank the heavens above for these two angels and their incredible bond. Watching them grow up together is a blessing and we wouldn't change it for the world.
December 19th, 2011, an angel was born! From the moment she came into this world, she was a happy, energetic, active baby girl. She was a very content baby, and she rarely cried. At 12 months, my husband and I started to notice little differences. Her silence became a concern when she wouldn't respond to her name, and her attention span was fading. Fast forward, Essie was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 4. She is now 8 years old! Some of her hobbies consist of swimming, dancing, bathing her toys, and she LOVES spending quality time with family. Our little girl is super genuine, smart, and so loved. She attends school and loves learning new things, although sometimes it may be challenging. Like many girls her age, she is shy and has strong opinions about what she does and does not want.
As a mom, caring for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder can demand a lot of energy and time. Parenting alone isn’t easy, but raising a child with ASD is even more challenging. There are days that I feel overwhelmed, stressed, and discouraged. The good days are amazing, and the bad days are intolerable, but the more I learn about Autism, the more I understand the reasoning behind Essie's behaviors. For a few years after her diagnosis, I would avoid discussing her condition with anyone. It took me a very long time to come out and finally admit that my daughter has Autism. I made it my mission to never change her to fit our way of life, but to change our way of life to include her. My daughter is my best friend. I am her safe haven and I vow to be that for the rest of my life. Of course, like any mother, I would take away their struggles if I could. I may not have always fully understood Essie, but I do now and I will go to the end of the earth to make sure everybody understands her too. God chose me to be her mommy for a reason. I was built for this. I am a proud Autism mom!
One of the most critical roles family members play in the lives of their loved ones with autism is that of an advocate. There is no shame in having a child on the autism spectrum. This is the way Essie was born. What my husband and I now work hard in equipping her and the rest of our family with the tools we all need to live a happier life. Essie is a major daddy's girl! My husband, Nick, shares an unbreakable bond with her. He is extremely hands on with the girls. Essie does not go to sleep without his embrace! He has a nightly task of tucking her in. As parents, we each share a special bond with her in our own unique way. Together, we make the ultimate team. Family life is all about relationships, coming together as a unit and having strong communication skills. My unit is strong and our journey is unique (especially in our community). With that being said, I wouldn't change it for the world. Thank you for taking this journey with us!
Love, Olympia, Nick, Essie & Katharina