It’s essential for parents of autistic children to connect with other parents with similar stories who can be of support, a listening ear without judgement, and be of encouragement. I found that in meeting Cre Stokes, who is a fellow autism mom. She was inspired by a photo shoot with her daughter Harmony to organize a fashion show ” Defying The Odds: Different Not Less in Martinez, G.A. with other children and families within the local autism community. Cre’s passion, dedication, and determination is undeniably. Harmony is equally determined to defy the odds of her disability for which I witnessed in being of support of her participating at the Special Olympics held at Greenbrier High School in Evans, G.A. recently. I later had the pleasure of welcoming them both in my home in learning more about this inspirational mother and daughter duo who bring to life the importance of understanding, advocacy, and hope within the autism community.
P.F.M. What were your initial thoughts in knowing Harmony had autism?
C.S. : Well considering I was dealing with my own diagnosis it hadn’t really sunk in just quite yet. My dad is the first one who diagnose her and said, “She has the new thing they are talking about that Pete’s son has.” Momma and I said, “What is that? ” He said, “You’ll need to look at some other channels sometimes besides the soaps channels we just chuckled! ” My daddy knew more than any of us did.
P.F.M. : How did knowing Harmony would have autism impact your faith?
C.S. : I knew that God had chosen me for a unique journey because of my profession as a special education teacher and therapist. I know that God is too wise, and He doesn’t make any mistakes, nor does He place more on me than I am able to bear. He brought me back home, so I could have all the support I need to help with Harmony for it takes a village and some to raise an autistic child.
P.F.M. : Did you have any prior experience in working or knowing someone with autism or special needs before Harmony?
C.S. : I am a former CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreational Therapist) and a former Special Education Teacher ~EBD/MID/Interrelated (Emotional Behavior Disorder/Mild Intellectual Disabled) In home~ Institute for Family Centered Services. In my church in Fleming, Georgia there was a young man who had Asperger’s Syndrome. He would often gravitate toward me.Harmony and I moved back to Augusta. He often came with his respite provider to bring us back home. He loves Harmony and to this day he keeps in touch with us via Facebook. He has adjusted well. He has graduated, and he is a truck driver. His journey gives me hope for all other autistic children. There is life after this diagnosis. I had a student in my MID class when I taught High School. He reached out to me said, “Ms. Stokes I am graduating soon from college it’s been a long journey, but you taught me not to give up or to let my circumstances stop me. I will be graduating with honors with a degree in visual arts and would be honored if you would come to my graduation.” Its stories like these that give me hope for others like Harmony who live the disability.
Harmony participating at the Special Olympics at Greenbrier High School in Evans, G.A.
P.F.M.: What do you wish others would know about your daughter before judging her disability?
C.S. : I wish they would get to know Harmony. She is a kind soul that has been here before (lol) She has a keen sense of discernment she knows when people are real. She has a uniqueness like most autistic children. She is very loveable, kind, smart, very energetic, talented and very personable. Most of all a smart young lady that will give you a look with those eyes. There’s something about those eyes!
P.F.M. : How do you cope and apply self-care in being a caregiver along with your own challenges in being disabled?
C.S. : I am a calm happy go lucky person. I have learned somethings are beyond my control. I must take one moment, one hour, a day, one week, one month and one year at a time. Getting stressed out is not good for me. I had to learn coping skills. It does help to have my momma in the house with me to assist on the days when I am not able to move to get Harmony ready for school or just when I need a time out. My sister is Harmony’s respite provider, so she comes to get her at least once a month to take her to her house. She does activities with her. That is a big help on me! We are surrounding by family where I live, and they come up during the week to visit with Harmony. This is so helpful for me beyond words. Then on Sunday my cousin brings her kids after church,we plan a family dinner, and everyone comes by, and we eat together while the children go outside to play with Harmony.
P.F.M. : What growth have you seen in the way we view autism and special needs as society today?
C.S. : To be honest, very little in my opinion. You see it is more diagnosed, but that’s about it. I see less children being covered with medical coverage, more denial and appeal process going on. I see more bullying in the school system and less done about it. That’s why I am determined to make a difference through my story and my voice.
P.F.M. : What are your joys in being a mother to a beautiful and special daughter such as Harmony?
C.S. : She makes me smile everyday even when my day has gone wrong. She knows when momma has had one of those days. She will take my had and face then just kiss me and that makes everything better. This brings me so much joy. She is just a loveable child even when she is being mischievous (lol). Everyone just loves her unconditionally. Something about those eyes!
P.F. M. : Who’s your support system?
C.S. : My mother, My dad, My sister, My aunts (Mae and Alice), My Cousin Jack, My BFF Julia (consistently), Cousin Janice (when in town), Harmony’s Teachers (Ms. Bridges/Ms. Kelly), My cousin Reesy (when in town), My Aunt Dot (when in town)
P.F.M. : What words of encouragement do you have for other moms of children with special needs?
C.S. : To not look at having an autistic child as a punishment from God. Look at it as you were chosen to carry one of God precious jewels that He couldn’t just have anyone to carry this unique individual. Also, you are not alone in this journey we must stick together in this walk. Share what you have learned along the way with another parent. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Choose your battles to fight save your energy for the war. You must love yourself and make time for yourself as well because if you are not healthy you can not take care of your child. We must be here for our children so whatever you must do to be here for our babies do it. Stress no more. Take one day at a time.