Autism Awareness Matters; Cheryl Borrelli's Story

Cheryl Borrelli’s Story Proves The Power Of Autism Awareness Month

Author; Mother

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Cheryl Borrelli was pushed to the end of her endurance. From single-handedly raising a son who has autism, to fighting depression every day, she needed an outlet to express her pain.

That outlet became writing, and it took her to release two books "Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" and "I Speak With My Heart."

Like all parents, Cheryl Borrelli was unsure of how she would handle parenthood when she first gave birth to her son, Nicholas.

After a premature birth in March of 1999, Borrelli expected some delays in her son's learning but was unsure of ways to measure the rate at which he learns.

"Being a new mom, I didn't really know what milestones to look for, so I was always looking in books like 'what am I supposed to be doing?' I started to notice as he got older he wasn't making the milestones he was supposed to be," Borrelli said.

After a trip to the pediatrician when Nicholas was four years old, Borrelli received news that is what she called "devastating," it was likely her son may have autism due to his non-verbal communicative skills.

Raising her son, Nicky, wasn't an easy battle from the start.

She spent the first months and years of his life taking Nicky to dozens of different types of therapies to help treat her son.

Due to this, Borrelli faced a never-ending period of sleep deprivation and depression, where she felt exhausted from the long days of treatment and stress of being a parent.

"I was just completely absorbed in being his mother, getting into progress and trying to figure out the severity of autism and what he needed," Borrelli said. "We started making those decisions like where does he go to school, where does he fit in, where can people provide for his needs?"

However, this was no easy feat for Borrelli, as she found herself in constant battles and lawsuits with local school systems and education boards because they were unable to provide basic and necessary means of service for her son.

As Nicky struggled with school, Borrelli found her son's autism to become increasingly severe.

"He would knock down bookshelves, run out of the classroom and we'd have to go and find him, he would scream, punch and kick, and punch and kick me," she said. "I had to pull him out of school, I had to volunteer practically every day, and began taking notes on him because they weren't helping him."

Borrelli decided to change the course of her parenting when she saw Nicky's autism become more severe. Instead of finding things to fix the problems he faced, she would look for solutions that are going to help him make progress.

The physical battle Borrelli faced was hard enough, but one of the hardest mountains Borrelli had to climb was accepting the fact that her perception of a normal family is changed.

"It can't be fixed. You just have to accept that this is our normal form now," Borrelli said. "That was the hard thing for me to accept because I want my son back. I was seeing him right in front of me and I miss him, I can't have a conversation with him."

The constant state of grief made Borrelli's depression worsen, so she started to look for ways of releasing her pain. This led her to write two books. "Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" was released in April of 2017, the second book of the series, "I Speak with my Heart", was released in January of 2019.

"Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" is a collection of handwritten letters Borrelli wrote to her son over the course of two years as she helps him face autism and life. It is the story of a mother's love, pain, and survival as she finds personal peace with the struggles she faces every day.

Through teary eyes, Borrelli read the letter she wrote to her son when he was first diagnosed with autism at a book signing event at the Whitman Free Library of South Philadelphia on March 11, 2019.

"Dear Nicky, I am so sorry. We fought so hard to survive and I can't believe it ended up like this. I never wanted this for you, for our life. We'll do whatever we have to be here for you. Each day that you struggle I'll be here for you all the time, cheering you on. I'll take care of you. I promise you I will help you, I love you."

Borrelli then denounced the labels that society may place upon her son and labeled him herself.

"I never wanted anyone to label you, so I will label you now. My angel. You are not 'autism,' Nicky. You are Nicholas D'Ambra. You are beautiful, handsome, intelligent, funny, loving, caring, unique, creative. You are wonderful, you are special, a survivor. You are a son, grandson, and friend, you are a child of God, an Italian American, a U.S. Citizen. You are not autism, Nicky, you are Nicholas, and I love you. Love, Mommy."

At first, the book was also a struggle Borrelli faced, as she had to face deep-rooted pain to write a collection of letters.

"I would much rather continue to ignore that pain and not feel it. I had to really feel it," Borrelli said. "I had to really spend time alone with myself and sit in it and feel it, cry, and let it out."

Releasing the finished novel was a milestone for Borrelli and her battle with depression. She felt anxious and afraid of judgment from people who will read about her life story and state of mental health.

Borrelli's fears were just that, fears. Her story has inspired readers and mothers alike who struggle with mental illness and together they have used her book as a connection to other parents whose children have disabilities.

"A lot of people really thanked me for reading my book because it's honest," Borrelli said. "It tells how parents feel, I make the best out of every day that Nicky has, any accomplishments he makes."

Borrelli proudly states that her book is an honest and raw depiction of the struggles a parent faces when their child has a disability such as autism. The book includes the full scope of Borrelli's life and doesn't fail to include raw truths such as physical abuse and an accurate depiction of mental illness.

"As he was getting older and stronger, his rage issues continued," Borrelli said. "He punched a window out one day, putting his fists through the glass, broke floorboards and he has given me two concussions from picking up DVD players or whatever is nearby and hitting me with them."

The struggle of watching her son face troubles daily moved her to devote every aspect of her life to helping him, expressing love for him through every movement.

"If I could take this troubling away from him I would, not being able to express himself is hard, but I can be here and fight with him," Borrelli said. "I can put awareness out there, starting my journaling helped heal me and my depression."

The love of a mother is one that is sacred and unbreakable, and Cheryl Borrelli's love for her son leads her to fight for him every day.

"He's the best thing that has ever happened to me," Borrelli said. "And I love him more than anything."

Cheryl Borrelli's books "Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" and "I Speak with my Heart" are available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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The Problem(s) With 'Autism Speaks'

As much as I would like to believe that this organization means well, I have to face the facts.

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Just about everyone has heard of Autism Speaks, a supposed "autism advocacy organization." Their familiar blue puzzle piece icon is often recalled by many. Just by looking at the name, you can tell it's a fantastic company with a great mission. Or is it?

I never really knew that much about Autism Speaks until I read an article one of my Facebook friends had shared. I was alarmed to see all the ways that they don't practice what they preach. OK, so yes, they do donate to the families of those with autism. However, the amount donated is less than two to four percent. A whopping 40-plus percent of the budget goes to advertising.

Another issue that really sparked my attention was the type of people they employ. A while back, Autism Speaks was run by a board that contained exactly zero individuals with autism or disability. They recently received a lot of criticism for this. One man, John Elder Robinson, who has autism, joined the board but quickly resigned because he discovered that the board had no respect for those with autism.

Another big red flag I discovered was the way they use that big profit to advertise autism: they don't really promote awareness, they promote fear. One mom labeled their marketing techniques as "disgusting," and I couldn't agree more. One commercial titled "I Am Autism" explains it all. It shows like a horror movie including lines like "I know where you live," and "If you're happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails," and "You are scared, and you should be." There are also many other commercials and clips by Autism Speaks that solidify this opinion. One that really ices the cake is one where a mother states "she contemplated driving off a bridge with her child with autism, but only didn't because she also had a neurotypical child." Sickening.

As much as I love to support those with disorders such as autism, I will never support Autism Speaks. Their mission is definitely not one I could get behind. They are looking for a cure, which is not what the world needs. We need to better the lives of those who have autism instead of trying to "fix" them. Autistic individuals are still human beings, so @AutismSpeaks, please stop treating and advertising them like anything less.

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10 Things People With Autism Are Exhausted Of Hearing In 2019

Like, seriously?

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Since Autism Awareness Month is here, I thought I would share some things that people with autism often hear but they are tired of hearing it is time that we all end stereotypes and start raising awareness in order to gain acceptance.

As people on the spectrum, we are tired of being placed in this bubble. We are way more than a disability. We are human and we want to live our lives like everyone else.

1. "You don't look autistic."

I didn't know that we had to have a certain look—that's like telling someone they don't look gay or they don't look like they are from Africa. You are really getting into stereotypes, aren't you? Are we supposed to have green skin, horns, red eyes? No one with autism has a certain look.

2. "You can be normal if you tried."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be rich. What is normal anyway? If everyone was normal then the world would be so, so boring. Normal is just a setting on a washer.

3. "You should work harder at fixing your traits (the annoying ones)."

We are all annoying in some way (disabled or not), but telling a person with autism to act "normal" is like telling someone in a wheelchair to just get up and walk. We often mask our symptoms because we don't want people to know that we are dealing with sensory overload. We are working hard to meet you halfway—we put up with the things that annoy us, so do the same, OK?

4. "Must have been vaccinated, huh?"

Seriously, just stop! There is no proof that vaccines cause autism so take a seat.

5. "You must be really good at math."

Please stop comparing us to "Rain Man"—don't forget that it is a movie. Not every one of us is good at math. I'm actually bad at math and better at English.

6. "How can you have autism? You're a girl."

While yes, boys tend to get diagnosed more than females, it doesn't mean that we don't exist.

7. "I'm so sorry."

What is there to be sorry for if we are happy and living our lives? You have nothing to be sorry for.

8. "Don't get offended if I use the R word. Free speech y'all!"

NEVER use that word! I got called that a lot growing up, and I still hate that word to this day. Yes, I am for free speech being a journalism major, but there is a difference between using free speech for your rights and using it to be a jerk.

9. "Does that mean you don't have to work?"

Ummm some of us actually want jobs. We don't want to live off the government, we have our own bills to pay, we actually have passions and dreams that we wish to achieve.

10.  "You must be violent and a danger to others."

That is one of the most dangerous assumptions that you can make about us. Because not only does it increase stigma, but it will also make people think differently of us.

I believe that if people spent more time educating themselves about what autism is instead of making assumptions about us then maybe this would be a less ignorant world. So not just in April but all year round, educate yourselves on what autism is because with awareness comes acceptance.

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