Motherhood Untold: Special Needs Parenting

*You are not alone. Our blog series, Motherhood Untold, tells the stories of real moms navigating motherhood's struggles, triumphs, and challenges.

In this installment of Motherhood Untold, we hear from Mindy Hayward-Hauck, owner of FIT4MOM Upper Arlington and Hilliard and FIT4MOM Home Office employee.

“Names” I’ve expected to be called in my lifetime:






“Names” I never expected to be called:

Special-Needs Parent


In March 2015, our family was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. We named her Penelope, and we were so excited to welcome her to our family. Always a happy child, Penny’s giggle will light up a room, and her spontaneous dance parties are infectious. As she grew, we began to notice little things. “Missed” milestones.


Our pediatrician wasn’t concerned. Kids develop on their own timeline. She has a VERY chatty brother - no wonder she doesn’t feel like talking. He does it all for her!But, as time moved on, there were things that became a little concerning. Not responding to her name. Not making eye contact. Seeming to be in her own little, albeit very happy, world.

At the age of 3, Penny received placement in our school district’s special needs preschool, and at 3 ½ years old, we received our official diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder with Global Development Delay. I still remember the day vividly. We suspected the diagnosis was coming, but what I didn’t expect were the tears. So many tears in the doctor’s office explaining to us what interventions would be recommended for our perfect, happy girl. Speech therapy. Occupational therapy. Physical therapy. 40 hours a week (that’s a full-time job!). Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.


There’s a funny thing about those tears, though. They weren’t for Penny. She is perfect in her own way. She is EXACTLY the person she was created to be. The tears were for me. For the expectations that I had for my daughter that now may never be realized. Will I ever see my daughter in a tutu dancing in a recital? Will I ever hear her sing a song in her school musical? Will we ever be able to have mother-daughter mani-pedis? There was a period of grief that I personally had to deal with, and still do on occasion.

But, life goes on, and our family would move forward, finding our new and unconventional normal. Penny is 8 years old now, and she is still non-verbal, so we find new ways to communicate


In school, she is learning to use an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device as a form of communication. But, believe me when I tell you, this girl knows how to tell you if she wants something! If she’s hungry, she’ll grab you from wherever you are in the house and pull you into the kitchen to show you what she wants. If she’s tired, she’ll pull the blanket off of her bed and wrap herself in it. If she wants a hug…look out! She’ll be in your lap in a hot second, grabbing you around the neck for that hug.

Our family is also extremely lucky to have found many safe spaces and people that welcome Penny and all her quirks with open arms and so much love. Our FIT4MOM village is one of those places. Penny has quite literally grown up with FIT4MOM, and together we have created the most welcoming and inclusive village, not just for moms, but their kiddos, too. We have a number of special kiddos in our local village, and I am honored to have created that safe space for their families.

As the parent of a neurodiverse child, my hope is to spread ACCEPTANCE, not just awareness. Autistic children aren’t sick. Quite the opposite. They are healthy and happy. Their personal worlds just look a little different than ours. Their brains are wired differently. And different isn’t less… it’s just different. If you take a moment and really get to know an autistic child and enter their word, I promise you will find yourself in the most beautiful and accepting space. If only we could all be so lucky to live in the presence of such beauty!

We are so thankful to Mindy for being so open and vulnerable about her experiences! You are handling motherhood with grace and compassion—we love being able to learn from other parents like you. All moms need a village and we are so happy that you are a part of ours!


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