“If you’re one of these people considering giving up on blogging in exchange for paying more attention to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, or whatever else they throw at us mere mortals, bear in mind you are giving up on something rather unique and wonderful.” —Hugh Macleod
It’s funny how sometimes we never set out to do the things that end up being such an integral part of our lives. Take blogging, for example. I never really made the conscious decision to be a blogger. Two years ago this month, I had recently begun to homeschool my son Nigel, who was thirteen at the time. He had been diagnosed at age three with classic autism, and again at age five, because he was still not functionally verbal. Through many years of intensive therapy, he learned to talk and filter his sensory issues so that he could be mainstreamed in public school with full-time assistance. That full-time assistance was dropped in middle school, and horrible problems arose. I began seeing regressive behavior that I hadn’t seen in years, in addition to new difficulties that I had no idea how to handle. I turned to the Internet and searched for information on autism in the teen years. I didn’t find much, and I figured that there had to be other parents out there whose children, like mine, had been diagnosed in the early years of the autism “boom.” Those other parents of teens had to also be searching for information, and I wanted to provide a much-needed resource for all of us. I wanted to connect with them – with any parents of children with autism – and end my years of isolation. And so, Teen Autism was born.
Initially, I didn’t plan for it to be a blog. It was to be a website, so I researched how to create a website. Not knowing code, this undertaking was hugely insane. I bought books, purchased a domain, and discovered through my host that I could use the blogging software called WordPress as a content management system (CMS). This sounded like it would work for what I was trying to achieve. I had to learn some code in order to install the software and get it doing what I needed it to do, and I was pretty proud of myself for figuring it out (after hours of head-banging agony). And then I started writing. I wrote on all of the topics that concerned me as the parent of a child with autism, and I categorized the posts on the sidebar so that other parents could scroll down, click on a category that they wanted to read about (sensory issues, bullying, language, siblings, homeschooling and many more), and all of the posts within that category would come up. I wrote and posted five days a week, trying to build up the categories with information for other parents to read. But I wasn’t really blogging yet.
Occasionally, friends or family would comment on one of my posts, and that was gratifying. My page views per day were increasing, and I received my first encouraging email from another parent of a teen on the spectrum, thanking me for writing. But it wasn’t until about four months later that I really started blogging, i.e. reading others’ blog posts and commenting on them. First Casdok found me and left a comment, and then Mama Edge, who had just started blogging and found me by searching “teen autism,” just as I’d hoped parents would. She left a comment on my post “To Catch a Fly,” and I went to her first blog, saw her blogroll listing many other parents of kids with autism, and I started blogging. It’s strange to say that I started blogging after I’d already written 105 posts, but that’s how it happened.
I listed my blog on Technorati and the Ringsurf page for autism bloggers, but other than that, I didn’t do anything to market it. I started building up my own blogroll and realized that I was reading so many blogs that I needed to set up a reader, which I did at Bloglines. My feeds have changed a bit over the last year and half, but I am currently reading 72 blogs, and the majority of them are autism-related. For now, that’s my focus. I intend to keep posting on Teen Autism until Nigel, now 15, transitions out of high school, and I’ll write about that experience for a few months. Afterward, my focus will probably shift to blogs about writing, which I wish I had time to read now. Almost a year ago, Nigel went back to regular school part-time (with assistance), and I resumed working full-time, so I had to reduce my posts per week. As a single parent of two boys whose father lives 700 miles away, I don’t have much free time. But the connections I’ve made through blogging are so important to me that when I do have free time, usually in the late evenings, I blog. It’s a lifeline for me.
But even lifelines have to be scheduled. I’ve been asked how I manage to blog, comment, work, advocate for my son, advocate for others (through volunteer work that I do as a chapter rep for the Autism Society of Oregon), and be a single parent. To be honest, I’m not sure how I fit it all in. Some days are very hard for me to keep it together. But there are three things I do that help me immensely. First, everything is scheduled, even showers. Of course, things always come up, so the schedule must have some built-in flexibility, and that’s challenging. But it’s essential. Second, I maintain perspective. Every night when I go to bed, I lie in the dark and take five minutes to remind myself that my kids are safe in their beds, we have a good roof over our heads and food in the kitchen, and I have a job that doesn’t have me on my feet all day (I have a lot of respect for people in service-oriented jobs). It’s a mental gratitude journal, reminding myself of the positives in my life, and it’s essential to my well-being. The third thing I do is just keep moving. My life won’t always be this busy, and if I keep moving, eventually I’ll get to a point where it’s a little less hectic. Sure, I’ll always “keep busy,” as my retired aunt says. And I certainly look forward to the day when I’m able to choose how I spend my time. But for now, with the little time I have available for chosen activities, I choose blogging. I may be an accidental blogger, but I am a devoted one. And a grateful one, too.