In April of last year I wrote about my son Atticus on the day we found out he had autism. He was 2 1/2 years old then, but we suspected it from the time he was 18 months. It was a frustrating year trying to get experts to listen to us before he finally got the proper diagnosis.

Our youngest child Cooper had just turned one when we learned. Never did I imagine a year and a half later I would be back here to share the same news about him.

A few months ago we found out Cooper, while more mild than Atticus, also is on the spectrum. He’s the sweetest little guy who is very affection and always blowing kisses to his mommy. We wouldn’t trade either of them for the world. But sadly the world would trade them in a heartbeat. That’s why I’m writing this.

The world can be a cold place. Social media has made it even colder.

This is for every autism parent out there who has suffered the nasty looks and endured the cold comments of total strangers. This is for the parents whose children, like mine, go to therapy more hours a week than many adults work full-time jobs, and who wonder if this is the only improvement their child will ever see. Wonder if they will stop progressing. Wonder what will become of them. This is for the parents whose finances are strained and who haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years.

You are not alone. My wife and I understand everything you’re going through. Even the guilt.

Guilt because no one yet knows what is causing autism and so you start to blame yourself. My wife will wonder if it is a matter of heredity and if she passed it down because of suspected undiagnosed autism in her family. I will wonder if it is a matter of me being an older father this time around with Atticus and Cooper; after all a 2017 study showed an age link. 1.6% of children born to fathers in their 40s will have autism. But it’s not that significant of an increase when you consider 1.5% of children born to fathers in their 20s will also have autism.

Then you start to wonder did I let them see screens too young when I shouldn’t? You start to wonder was it the two working parents with careers and no time to cook from scratch every day therefore processed foods could be to blame? You start to wonder is it something about living in New Jersey where we have the highest autism rates in the nation, or is it just that we are the best at detecting and actually diagnosing it?

In short you feel guilt over everything. Yet the truth is no one truly knows yet what causes autism.

So if you are an autism parent, please know everything you have felt we have felt it too. If your child is still nonverbal and a stranger in a store tries to speak to them, we know what goes through your heart. If your child is having a sensory overload but strangers mistakenly think it’s just a bratty toddler having a tantrum, we know how tense you get.

My wife Aubree and I want you to give yourself a break for all these feelings, and for the bitterness of not being a better parent. My oldest two children, 14 and 12, taught me that even neurotypical kids never have perfect parents. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. The worry and challenge and frustration and difficulty you go through every day with a child with autism will not allow for perfection. So knock it off. You are a far better parent than you realize.

What’s more, your child’s future is a far brighter place than you probably realize. Best selling writer and public speaker Kerry Magro? Autism. 16 year old climate activist and Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg? Autism. Comic actor and businessman Dan Akroyd? Autism. With modern day therapies started as young as possible lives are being turned around every day and futures now hold more promise than ever.

Cooper is having ABA therapy along with speech and occupational therapy. His brother Atticus continues in his programs as well. They are both progressing nicely.

I know how exhausted you are mom and dad, but you’re child needs you to keep going. I became a better person after these challenges came into my life than I was before them. Hang onto the good, and remember your child’s autism does not have to be the thing that defines them. There’s a children’s book for kids with autism called All My Stripes by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer. I suggest it because parents can get something out of it too; basically a gentle reminder your child’s autism is only only stripe, only one part of who they are.

This Christmas I want all the struggling autism moms and dads to remember to enjoy their children for who they are. You are better at this than you think you are, and your children will be better at life than you’re afraid they will be.

Merry Christmas, and enjoy them for all their stripes.

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