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2017 Photographer Index

2017-collins-julian 2017-cotugno-zain

Charles Cotugno
Charles Cotugno Photography


So there I was in front of the doors of an elevator at the University of Washington, holding my husband's hand. I remember as if it were yesterday, going inside, thinking, “Why us? Why now?”The doors closed and I felt sick. I was sweaty, my heart was beating fast, my whole body was shaking and the air was so thick, I almost couldn't breathe. I remember clearly walking out of that elevator. The front office clerk took us to a small room. There were three chairs, a table, and a box of tissues. I knew why they were there, because I started crying as soon as I sat, even before the Doctor walked into the room. We waited for a few minutes but it felt like hours, in my head, I couldn't stop thinking about that elevator. The doors that closed behind me just minutes before took with them a life that was gone, a life that would never come back. In that room, on that second floor, I knew deep in my heart my life and the life of each member of my family was about to change forever.

 On November 15th, 2012, I heard from the Doctor the word Autism for the first time, our son, our beautiful two-year-old boy, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I didn't know all I know now about ASD but I remember thinking I can't lose him, his voice, the look in his eyes, his sweet smile...this is not possible! Learned that my son probably wasn’t ever going to be able to talk or live an independent life was the tornado that wake me up from my 35 years of a “perfect life” and gave birth to the "real" life that I was meant to live.

 Fast forward to 2017, a few years after that elevator ride I am so happy to understand why I felt so lost in that moment and how I was able to overcome that feeling and find myself again.

 My only hope sharing our story is to help other families get throw these difficult times and rediscover a new life with Autism full of growth and opportunities. I know how hard is to think about growth and opportunities when you are living the experience, Autism is an unpredictable road, for us things keep happening all the time, and we have no control over them, and in some cases, one bad thing turns into another and suddenly, we end up feeling stuck– powerless and hopeless, but looking at the possibilities has helped us to always find a way out. In the midst of what may seem like complete chaos, there is always an opportunity to create a life that makes us feel happy and empowered, no matter the circumstances we are living. But the question is how? How can we get into a better place, how can we turn things around?

 I truly believe we as parents with kids on the spectrum need to be able to look into ourselves and reconnect with the only thing that will keep us strong; I am talking about our courage, our faith, our hope, our inner world, our great spirit and our beautiful souls. Autism will never define who we are as parents and it will never define the dreams and possibilities of our kids.

 Understanding this was an incredible awakening for me, knowing that Luca's true life was the part of him Autism will never change, knowing his life was more than  a diagnosis or his struggles gave me so much power to stopped me from pointing the finger at my life’s circumstances and blaming Autism for the quality of our life and the life of my  family.

We learned over time to let go of all those thoughts that were disempowering us. As a result, beautiful miracles started happening. We started a transformation that allowed us to look inside each other (his sisters, my husband, family and friends) and find a straight that we didn’t know we had, a faith that was bigger than our doubts and a courage that was greater than any fears…in the midst of the chaos we found in Autism the most beautiful miracle of hope, made with everyday action and unconditional Love. 

Luca is our perfect Boy, and every day we are open to learn new things and the world we get to see throw his eyes is a world we could never imagined...yes it takes a lot of work and it is not easy but I am so proud of him and my family overcoming all the obstacles we have encounter since his diagnosis.

Today we celebrate our victories and the many families which lives were transform by Autism. To those families, I want to tell them even though this is some of the hardest work we've ever done, and never in a million years did we expect to be the parents of an autistic child, I hope we all get to see the beauty in our experience and see always the possibilities and growth for our kids and our families.

Alma, mother of Luca
Issaquah, WA