Lean In

Cooper 30

Sometimes I will be sitting in my living room, or taking a shower, or driving in my car, and all of a sudden feel a crippling fear.

It will come out of nowhere almost consuming my thoughts. Paralyzing me.

I will feel it so strongly that I will clutch my stomach or bring my hand to my head, as if trying to wipe away the worry.

Cooper. My son.

I’ll see a flash of his future. A glimpse twenty years from now.

It’s not fear of the diagnosis. Or the label. Not at all.

It’s not fear of being different or standing out. Nope, we embrace that here. We encourage it actually.

And it’s not fear of paving our own path. Because there is beauty in achieving milestones and goals at one’s own time.

It’s the fears that I used to not be able to say out loud.

It’s fear for my son’s safety.

Cooper is 11. The paper in my drawer says: ‘Severe, level 3 autism, with an intellectual disability and language disorder.’ It’s tucked away. Under our income taxes and files for work, rarely looked at anymore.

That diagnosis, those labels, while very important, aren’t needed day to day in our world.

Cooper is Cooper. He is learning to type and he can dress himself and his dream is to fly to Alaska and see the whales. He would go tomorrow if we could.

With that diagnosis though, comes some challenges too.


It’s fear of someone hurting him. Or misunderstanding him. Strangers. Law enforcement. Monsters who prey on vulnerability. And what if I’m not there to protect him? Or what if I am and no one will listen to me?

It’s fear of him not being able to tell me he’s sick. And something really bad happens. Or someone abusing him. Verbally. Physically. Sexually.

It’s fear of losing him. Or not being able to protect him from water, fire, strangers and cars. The things he should understand but doesn’t.

It’s fear of him getting bigger. Because strangers are kinder to toddlers than adults. And while most people are kind, some are not. They will see a man and not care to see anymore.

It’s my biggest fear. The one that most parents could never fathom. It’s fear of dying and leaving him behind. Because I know that no one will ever love him like I do.

I used to run from these thoughts. I would feel them and immediately shove them deep down inside, so far down, hoping to never see them again.

That wasn’t healthy. That was avoidance.

Not anymore. I lean in now.

Acknowledging my fears has changed everything for me. Absolutely everything.

Now I don’t miss moments like these ones. The silly, cheesy grin. The loves. The hugs. The laughter. The joy.

Lean in parents. Feel everything. Every fear. Every worry. Take five minutes. Ten even. Think about what is wanting to consume you. It’s fear of the unknown.

So, make your fears known. Take away their power

By acknowledging your fears you are helping your child, and your yourself.

Then, move on and see the beauty and joy in the amazing moments like this one.

Three brothers. Laughing over the Tran Family on The Family Feud. They are from Dallas, Texas. And Cooper watches them every single day. And he likes to share them with his brothers.

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. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and join our supporter page, Coop’s Troops, for an amazing community full of support and understanding.


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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