A Letter to my Son on his 9th Birthday…


My sweet boy, today is your birthday.

9 years old. I know it sounds silly, but I almost can’t believe it.

All moms say that I suppose. But with you, it’s true.

Time in our world is different. Fast. Then slow. Then backwards. Even upside down.

It has even stopped. Man those were some tough years.

But you and I both know that age is just a number. And milestones are just another checklist we don’t pay any attention too.

Because you my son, are different. Perfectly, amazingly different.

You are on your own path. And no one else on this earth is on it. Which used to really scare mommy. But now, in a way, it motivates me.

Because you kid, can pave the way. You can show them all how it’s done. How cool is that?

As I sit here watching you practice your words with your speech therapist, I can’t help but think about all of the crazy things that have been said to us over the years.

Someone once told me that you would never make a friend, ride a bike or learn to speak. She said she was an expert. She knew kids like you.

Another person said I should prepare for a life without words. That I need to accept it.

A professional once told me that you had the most severe case of autism he had ever seen and that you wouldn’t be living with us for long.

Someone once told me that if you didn’t have any words by age 4, you never would. I remember thinking age 4. We got this. We can do this. All during your third year I would think…’at least we are on the right side of age 4.’

And then that birthday came and left. No words. And I believed it.  

A test once told us your IQ. A ridiculous, aggravating test, that asked you questions but didn’t even give you a way to answer them. It still makes my blood boil.

And here’s a secret buddy, I cared. I thought that test meant something. Speaking of silly moms. Geez right?

I was told that you were deaf and that you would never be potty trained.

Not too long ago I was told that you had the language skills of a 6 month old baby. And that your cognitive abilities weren’t far ahead of that.

They sure seemed embarrassed when I pointed out that you could read. And spell.

I was told all of these things because you have autism. One word has the ability to forecast all of those things I guess.

Most of the things I was told were bad. Really bad. But you never knew that. Your dad and I would never allow a negative thing to be said about you in your presence. Because you were always listening. Even if they didn’t think so.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I wouldn’t have been so scared about your diagnosis if just one person would have told me something good.

If they would have told me about an amazing child like you.

Well you know what?

One year ago, on this very day, you turned 8. You had no words. No approximations. No mimicking. You didn’t use spoken sound to communicate in any way.

Our doors were locked tight. Internal and external.

You couldn’t safely ride in a car or walk down the street.

When you got frustrated, or mad, or scared, you’d do things that I don’t even like to think about anymore.

You stripped our beds, put everything in the bathtub, lined up chairs, and stole photos from frames. And don’t even get me started on the times who hid my credit cards and drivers license.

Kid, what a year. What a ride really.

And today, you are 9.

You have 40 or so words. They may not make sense to everyone else but I understand every single one.

You can type words into YouTube. You can even read. You write your name. You use a fork and a spoon. You put your own shoes and jacket on.

You unbuckled your own seat belt this morning. Walked into speech safely, on your own. I didn’t have to hold you with two hands. I didn’t worry about you running into the street.

You even pointed to the ice on the path and giggled and ‘pretended’ to slip like the character’s in your cartoons do.

When I asked whose birthday it was you said ‘MMMM-EEEEE!’

We are going to have a cake and balloons tonight. And presents. You reminded me that I can’t forget the presents.

And in two weeks you are having a friend birthday party. Can you believe that?

You my son are amazing. Because you will shatter every single dang thing they told me that you would never do.

And you did it all. You. At your own pace. Even when the world didn’t believe it would happen.

You, my son, are a lifelong learner.

And you are going to change the world. Just by being you.

I’m so proud of you Cooper.

I can’t wait to see what this next year brings.

Happy Birthday my sweet boy.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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