My son, Ethan, was diagnosed with autism at age three. I remember thinking he was more behind on his infant and toddler milestones than his older sister was, but I didn't think too much of it because we are often told that each child is different and the range of "normal" is pretty wide.

He didn't begin walking until almost two. He could speak a lot of words at 12 months but they were never his own. He would simply mimic back what others said to him. Communication got much easier when he got to a place where he could answer yes or no, but it wasn't until we completed a lot of therapy before he could answer anything open ended. He is as literal as the day is long and sarcasm, analogies, and innuendo are often lost on him. He has to learn some things differently because he can't easily intuit from context what is meant. He is sensitive to touch and loud noise but, with therapy, has learned how to better cope with uncomfortable stimuli.

Fear of the Future

Our worries began when several relatives and friends recommended getting him tested. The tests confirmed he was on the spectrum and it was recommended that he get occupational, speech, and group therapy immediately. I wondered if he would be able to become a productive member of society being able to delight in all that life has to offer "normal" people. He was my child. I loved him with all my heart. Fear of the future was very real.

He finished therapy at five, did well in school, but basically had no friends nor desire to spend time outside or engaging with peers. It hurt seeing Ethan have no friends, no birthday invitations, and no special people in his life, other than family.

A Budding Ninja

I decided he really needed more exercise and to be forced to interact with more people. I gave him a choice between soccer, T-ball, or karate. He emphatically told me no to all. I said choose or I will choose for you, which ultimately resulted in my loading him in the car and off to the nearest local ATA Taekwondo school. He resisted at first, but once there, found he liked it. Martial arts has a special way of helping kids with varying issues learn focus, discipline, self confidence, and drive. Ethan had an immediate affinity for the sport and it caused those around him to want to make friends. He finally fit in. He excelled. He began to speak more. He became more coordinated. And then... he began to win!

Martial Arts Champion

Ethan's instructor suggested he try a national competition and when that yielded a first place finish, urged us to consider having him compete to some day earn the title of world champion. He has been training for more than 2 years in this endeavor and last year came very close by tying for first but losing the tie-breaker to take 2nd in the world! He has continued to train and will try again this year to earn a world championship title in two different leagues, the ATA (American Taekwondo Association) and the NBL (National Black Belt League). He is currently ranked first in the world in two events and is top 5 in a few others.

Most people who meet him have no idea he has autism. Those that do, are in awe of how far he has come! He's learned a lot and loves to give back. He enjoys teaching martial arts and loves his many friends more than words can convey. I am one of the proudest mothers on the planet and I KNOW what it has taken to reach this place and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him. A reality that is very different from what I thought not long ago.

You can follow Ethan on Instagram @ethanfineshriber