Clara S.
Grand Prize Winner
Clara’s Story

“Teaching Special Ed” was a required class for my teaching license. It was in that class, at age twenty-three, that I first heard about autism, and it scared me. How is it possible for a teacher or a parent love a child who is unable to love them back?

I could see that Charlie, my red-headed cherub, was different from the very beginning. He was my third child, and he was too good. He never seemed to want or do anything. Well-meaning friends assured me that his deficits were “just a boy thing”, but their advice only frustrated me. Was I only imagining his inattentiveness? One night I probed and poked at my ominous suspicions on the diagnosis page of an autism website. “Does your child have these symptoms?” it asked. A checkbox attended each question. Check, check, check, check…...check. I looked down to the baby on the blanket at my feet. He was no longer my gooey, sweet Charlie; he was a stranger.

What had happened in that split second between pre and post diagnosis? Was it Charlie that changed? No, it was us. In those early post-diagnosis years, my husband and I comforted each other with the saying, “Charlie is Charlie.” After all, he was still the same boy as before he had the label. This theory was tested during the physically, mentally, and financially draining days of constant therapy and biomedical interventions. Charlie seemed more like a task to complete or a project to fix. My legitimacy as a mother in my own eyes was too often hinged upon making our son “normal.” But, “Charlie is Charlie”, we reminded ourselves again and again.

It took years for it to really sink in that our son is not “autism.” He is not a statistic, a mistake, or a problem. Charlie is, instead, a professional teacher of living in the moment. He lives in perfect thrill of a stiff breeze, a good beat on the radio, a steaming plate of food, of any little sparkly thing. He is the perfect companion on any errand and the comic relief in tense or sad moments.

A fourth child joined our family after Charlie. Like his older siblings, he has learned important lessons about “going with the flow” and about standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Most importantly, Charlie’s siblings know how to love someone who reciprocates that love in unconventional ways. Love is not shared through board games and retellings of spooky tales in the tent, but in pokes, teasing eyes, peek-a-boos; in subtle smiles and not-so-subtle squeals of delight.


Shield HealthCare recognizes the dedication and daily challenges of caregivers. Our annual caregiver story contest on “What Makes Caregiving Rewarding?” is a special way to honor caregivers and provide an encouraging forum to share inspiration. Whether you are a family caregiver or a home health professional, we welcome your story about the rewards of being a caregiver.
Top 3 Story Winner Prizes
  • $500 American Express Gift Card
  • One-year subscription to Today's Caregiver Magazine
  • Commemorative Wall Plaque
Top 5 Runner-up Prizes
  • $150 American Express Gift Card
  • One-year subscription to Today's Caregiver Magazine

The 2014 Caregiver Story Contest officially ended on 11/30/14. Winners will be notified on 12/19/14.

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ALL contest entrants will receive an "I Care" heart lapel pin!