The small bumper sticker on Nicole Strawser’s car offers only a hint of the story behind it.
"Somebody with autism loves me."
That somebody is her curly haired 3½-year-old daughter Franncesca and it’s not a sticker Strawser ever imagined having attached to their lives.
But there it is. Simple, without apology. Just like the lives Nicole and Franncesca are building for themselves in Lisle.
Strawser, a 24-year-old single mom who has spent the last seven years helping other people’s children blossom, has felt the burn of blame for Franncesca’s delays (including not walking until she was 22 months old) from others who refuse to understand. She herself didn’t want to believe the diagnosis—autism—of her almost perfect baby who’d scream at the sound of Velcro or pop cans opening.
"It was kind of like I knew it, but when someone finally says you’re right, I didn’t want to be right for a change," Strawser says.
Don’t worry, doctors told her. Franncesca isn’t like "Rain Man," the movie that has become the stereotype for autism.
Strawser threw herself into learning everything she could. She lucked out finding a person to help guide her through the paperwork and therapies.
"When you first get into it, you’ve got doctors handing you pamphlets. … It’s like, here’s a map, but there’s no roads. Having someone who has actually gone through it, the roads start appearing," she says.
She’s trying everything she can to reach Franncesca, even though she admits she sometimes pushes her little "Peanut" a little too hard.
"They say take it one day at a time, but you can’t but help think, but what if, if I do this, will it make this different?"
Inspired by her new path, Strawser is returning to school to become a paraprofessional or social worker to help other families find roads on their autism map.
"There’s always hope," she says.