Today's feature by Stacy Maillet first appeared on the WomenOfUSPSA.com blog.
Photo by P. Erhardt
In December of 2011 I was asked to speak at a support group for parents of newly diagnosed children with Autism. I have a 3 year old with this devastating diagnosis. I talked about the daily struggles with Autism and how draining it can all be. I talked about my child's erratic behaviors, and how every little milestone is like a quantum leap for my son.
I shared a few laughs and some tears. I shared the story of my journey with my son to a room of complete strangers. I explained that right now their lives may feel turned upside down, but they would find the strength to do whatever needed to be done for their child. They would make it through this trying time and learn to embrace their child for every morsel of who they are.
I told the mothers how important it would become for them to have an outlet; to find something that they love to do, something that will bring them moments of peace and a timeout from their crazy world. I assured them this this would be the most important thing they could do for their child and themselves.
A few moments later it was time for Q&A. The moms all went around and started telling each other about what their outlets were. Most said "yoga" or "meditation", a few said "running". Then it happened - I was still standing at the podium and a mother asked me, "What do you do for an outlet?". I was all prepared to say something "normal" like all the other mothers, but then I just blurted it out; "I shoot guns," I said. You could have heard a pin drop in that room as I stepped down from the podium. The look of disbelief and shock was enough to make me want to crawl under a chair.
Photo by P. Erhardt
I know some of the women thought I was some kind of crazy person, and shame on me for keeping guns in my house with a child - let alone an Autistic child! I live in a very anti-gun state, so their reaction to my unethical past time was no surprise. There is no doubt I was the only mom in this room with a handgun under her Burberry coat.
I felt they needed an explanation as to this bizarre hobby of mine. So this is what I said...
"Everything in my life after my son's diagnosis had been spiraling out of control. I felt like a victim of Autism! I felt like Autism was holding my son hostage with no intent on letting go, and everyday I embarked on a never ending journey with my son. Don't get me wrong, the rewards are endless. My son has taught me more about life, patience, acceptance and strength than I could ever teach him. I wouldn't change one thing about my life or my son! But there are times when I feel like I can't even breathe.
Shooting makes me feel in control, it makes me breath, it makes me clear my head of everything other than the gun in my hand and the target that stands down range. From the moment I step on that range I forget about Autism. It's my moment!"
I told them I shoot a sport called USPSA. I explained that it's a difficult task, that you have to be focused, you have to map out a plan, be accurate, very fast, and have complete control over your mind and body - much like the yoga they speak of.
Photo courtesy of Stacy Maillet
Most of all, shooting makes me happy! I'm not even really that good at it, but Autism has taught me that with a lot of hard work and persistence, you can achieve greatness.
I told them my hope to be a top competitor someday.
I also told them my dream: That one day my son will also enjoy this sport that I love so much.
I told them how shooting also helped my marriage. My husband Marc and I do this hobby together, and we are even pretty competitive with each other. Our date night once a week is Wednesday night practice at our Gun Club, and any Sunday we can find a babysitter you will find us at a local match! The people we shoot with are some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They have rallied around my husband and me and offer a great reprieve from our hectic life.
So yes, some would say the way I choose to unwind is far from typical, but nothing about my life is typical.
Photo by P. Erhardt
When I was done with my long explanation of my frowned-upon hobby, one mother sitting in the first row said, "So you started shooting guns because your son has Autism?" I laughed and replied with "NO - I just started shooting more!"
I went on to answer many questions from the mothers in that room about my hobby. I even exchanged phone numbers with some who were interested in hearing more.
I felt GREAT when I left. Not only did I educate these moms about Autism, I also enlightened them about guns! Win, win!
- Stacy Maillet
Editor's Note: On April 7, 2012 the Harvard Sportsmen's Club will host a special practical shooting Autism Fundraiser Match for the Nicholas James Foundation. Named for her son who was diagnosed with autism at age 2, the foundation was established by Stacy Maillet and all donations go directly to children and families affected by Autism in the local area. If you would like to support the foundation contributions should be mailed to: The Nicholas James Foundation, 14A Fernwood Drive, Leominster, MA 01453.