Jennifer Jeppson isn't afraid to hold back on social media, especially when it comes to discussing her 4- and 6-year-old sons' experiences with autism. In fact, she's so well-versed on the topic, she decided to post an epic PSA about what moms and dads of kids with special needs wished other parents knew on Instagram — and the breakdown is incredible.
1. Please don't put me on a pity pedestal.
"'I couldn't do what you do every day — I'd go crazy' or 'They're lucky they have you because I couldn't do it.' I know those comments are well-meaning. Truly, I do. But frankly, I have never felt like intervening and helping our children was a choice. It's always been something that we've had to do. So we've done it. It's not like lessons or little league where we made a choice to be involved — it's something our children need to have a shot at life. Those comments can feel isolating at times. Maybe say: 'I really admire all you do for your children' or 'They are so lucky to have a mom that loves them so much.' Just make it a positive."
2. Just do.
"[Include me in] a meal, send a text, invite me to a girls' night. If you ever have a thought to reach out to a friend or family member who's a parent to a child with special needs, do it! My life gets so bogged down with things that I'm always so grateful for when someone reaches out to me. At times, I can be so drained that I can't even think about maintaining friendships. It's not that I don't want to, but it's hard. Reach out and do."
3. Give me the benefit of the doubt.
"If I forget to send a thank you note, am slow to call back or respond to a text, chalk it up to how overwhelmed I am. If I am quiet at a dinner or seem off, I am most likely trying my best to stifle my very tender and raw emotions."
4. Understand I'm jealous sometimes.
"I'm jealous of your life unencumbered by therapy and doctors and school meetings and evaluations. I'm grateful you don't spend hours on the phone fighting with the insurance company or hours filling out paperwork. You're busy, too. I know you have your hard stuff, too. But you hopefully had a choice to get busy with [stuff], which is such a blessing. The fact that your children can do those things is a blessing, which we can easily forget."
Jennifer told POPSUGAR that making a public account to tackle all things autism-related was a no-brainer. She simply wanted to document what it's like raising Parley and Whitaker, who are both on the spectrum, as well as their 2-year-old daughter, June, who's hitting every developmental milestone on time.
Parenting my children has been the hardest thing I've ever done and the most rewarding thing I've ever done.
"I wanted and want to share the realities of how autism not only affects my two boys but our entire family," she explained. "Originally, I felt like I was posting about autism-related things on my personal page too much and wanted to document and share our milestones, backslides, and everything in a place where I felt unrestricted. While their diagnoses are the same, the way autism manifests itself in Whitaker and Parley is completely different."
She also wanted her Instagram account to be a place where moms who just received an autism diagnosis can find the answers to the questions Jennifer admits to searching for with her husband Paul when they got the news about their own children.
"When Whitaker was diagnosed five years ago, I was totally lost about what to do or where to start, she said. "Paul and I felt so completely alone and scared. Help from other parents who had a child with autism was key. As he grew, and as Parley got diagnosed, I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends as they went through struggles similar to mine."
And while no one ever said parenting children with autism was easy, Jennifer admits that the experience has changed her life.
Parenting my children has been the hardest thing I've ever done and the most rewarding thing I've ever done. We both agreed that we didn't think we could handle having a child with autism. Yes, you read that right. Autism was something I had a very limited understanding of, a very biased view of and thought was one of the worst things that could happen ever . . . Having children with autism has changed so much of who I am, it's hard to put into words. I value almost everything so differently now than I did before, and it's hard to quantify that. One of the biggest things is that I now see children as individuals, regardless of diagnoses. I hate it when the first thing people say about my kids is that they are "autistic." Yes, they are, but they are so much more than that.