Finding the Strength to Parent an Autistic Child

When her son was suddenly diagnosed with autism, yoga helped Erin Turner focus her energy to keep him well.

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I was a young mom living in a young mom’s world. I had two beautiful children, a great husband, living in the little Massachusetts town of Essex, Massachusetts, and I loved my job. At 39 years old, I was busy teaching special education in the local school systems and doing all the things moms do—play dates, picnics, and field trips to zoos and museums—until one day all of that came to a screaming halt. My 5-year-old son, Liam, suddenly became severely autistic.

Liam was a “typical” little boy. He went to preschool, had friends, played with his sister, made jokes, had a funny sense of humor, and was quite bright. And then two months before his fifth birthday, it all went away. He completely stopped talking, stopped interacting, and was driven into a silent world of isolation. I even remember explaining to his friends why Liam would no longer play with them, something difficult for me to understand, let alone a child.

We were devastated. We had “lost” our little boy and had no idea what had happened. Was it a seizure? Stroke? Brain tumor? We went from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist and no one seemed to know. They all had the same answer: “Take him to therapy and move on.”

We couldn’t accept this reality. We buried ourselves in research. Our most important discovery was that changing his diet and providing alternative treatments was the right path to healing. By eliminating processed, modified foods from his diet, we’ve seen drastic changes in his behavior. While at first Liam acted out in anger and defiance, we now see more of the lovable, calm boy we once knew.

Those beginning days were dark and lonely. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why this had happened. It felt like a nightmare, and one day I would wake up to my “old life” with my “normal” children. I looked at every child and every family and wondered why my family had been chosen.

I’m not sure how I got through those very dark hours, but I do know that I had one thing waiting for me every day: yoga. I started practicing hot, power yoga (Baptiste style) a year and half before my son was diagnosed. I was dragged to my first class by my yogini, big sister who knew it would serve a purpose in my life (and has it ever).

I cried every single day for more than a year after my son got sick. And going to yoga didn’t change that. I cried on the way to yoga, sometimes screaming in the car “Why me?!” (with the windows closed) and silently during class (especially when the teacher asked us to “set an intention”), but I rarely cried on the way home. Yoga, in fact, was the only thing that made me feel whole.

Being an atheist at the time, I never prayed to God. But, as my practice grew, spirituality seeped in. It was so apparent to me that we are more than just human bodies living on this planet for a very short time. We all have a purpose here on our journey, and however long we are given to be here, serving that purpose is essential. My purpose is to heal my son, and yoga has given me the strength to never give up and never take “no” for an answer.

The most important lesson I learned from my practice is to trust my gut and instincts, like using alternative dietary methods. I have a new-found confidence that gives me the strength to continue. My practice urges me to focus on what I do have, rather than what I don’t. I hear it all the time in class: “Appreciate.” “Count your blessings.” “You are blessed.” And I believe it.

Yoga continues to give me an oasis, somewhere I can forget about my worries and concentrate on me. I still have bad days, but they are lessening. And it still breaks my heart to see Liam this way, but the gaping hole is filling. Liam is still suffering from his illness, but through our hard work and perseverance, I’ve seen changes. His digestion is better, his mood has improved, and he is slowly starting to use his words again. While I may never feel completely settled about the situation, I feel more in control.

So, the “Why me?”‘s stopped coming to the surface, and I realized the gift I have been given. It may not be “normal,” but I love my life. When I finally realized all I had been given, it was like magic.

Read more Tales of Transformation here.

Erin Turner is a special education teacher, wife, and mother to Liam, 6, and Samantha, 9. To learn more about Liam’s journey, visit

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